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Tikkun Middot Project Curriculum This program was made possible through the support of a grant from the Rabbi David Jaffe

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Page 1: Tikkun Middot

Tikkun MiddotProject

Curriculum

This program was made possible through the support of a grant from the

Rabbi David Jaffe

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TIKKUN MIDDOT PROJECT CURRICULUM Rabbi David Jaffe

The Tikkun Middot Project is an innovative, national program to promote character development through mindfulness and tikkun middot practice in targeted Jewish communities led by Institute for Jewish Spirituality-trained rabbis, cantors, educators, mindfulness teachers, and community leaders.

The project engages 28 Jewish organizations over two years, to develop individuals’ moral character through the mindfulness practice of tikkun middot: the cultivation of moral character traits. Cultivating community-wide attention to moral traits will transform the community by helping individuals acknowledge and reduce negative behavioral patterns and change challenging situations into opportunities to strengthen their character by responding with greater wisdom and compassion.

In addition to working on their own character development, participants engage in the practice of tikkun middot for the purpose of strategically infusing middot practice throughout as many facets of congregational and organizational culture as possible in a sustainable manner. For example, community members can focus on bringing the practice into worship, adult and children’s education, committee and board meetings, social justice work, and even cultural programming. We are delighted to present this project and embark on a journey of mindfulness with our selected communities.

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TIKKUN MIDDOT PROJECT CURRICULUM

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction 1

Hitlamdut: A Stance of Learning 13

The Bechirah/Choice Point 31

Anavah/Humility 49

Savlanut/Forbearance, Patience 67

Chesed/Lovingkindness 81

Kavod/Respect, Dignity, Honor 97

Shtikah and Shmirat HaLashon/ Silence and Mindful Speech

111

Bitachon/Trust in God 125

Emunah/Trustworthiness 143

Seder/Order 157

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INTRODUCTION

Tikkun Middot is the practice of cultivating certain soul traits in your life. It is related to Mussar, an

ancient form of Jewish spirituality which focuses on the development of middot or “soul traits” to attain

personal and communal holiness1. Mussar means instruction and discipline. It also implies turning

oneself in a positive direction ( מרע סור /”sur mei-ra – “turn away from the wrong path,” Psalm 34).2 In

some ways, Mussar is as old as the Torah itself (“kedoshim tihiyu – you shall be holy,” Leviticus 19:2).

Mussar developed as a distinct genre of Jewish ethical literature and practice starting in the 11th

century. Maimonides, the Kabbalists of Safed, Hassidim and 19th century Lithuanian Talmudists all

produced Mussar literature. In the Chassidic world, Mussar is sometimes called “Ha’alat Hamiddot/The

Elevation of the Middot” or “Tikkun HaYetzer/Transformation of the Inclinations.” Rabbi Israel Salanter,

a leading 19th century Lithuanian Torah scholar, developed the Mussar movement to systematize and

popularize Mussar teachings and practices.

In the past two decades there has been a Mussar renaissance in North American liberal Jewish

communities, driven primarily by the work of Dr. Alan Morinis of The Mussar Institute and Rabbi Ira

Stone of The Mussar Leadership Institute. This curriculum is based on traditional Mussar sources,

including the work of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d. 2005), one of the greatest Mussar teachers of the past

generation, and is influenced by TMI’s work in communicating this ancient tradition to modern

audiences3.

The Tikkun Middot Project of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality is an initiative to integrate mindfulness

practice (as understood through a Jewish lens) with the “spiritual technology” of Mussar. The Institute

roots traditional Jewish spiritual practices in a foundation of mindfulness practice, by which we seek to

maximize our awareness of what is happening in and around us—in other words, to be fully awake and

present in the moment. Enhanced awareness fosters conditions which enabled us to see more clearly

the obstacles and opportunities present in each moment, and to wisely select options which are more

wholesome or “godly.”

This introduction provides an overview of the key ideas, modalities and practices that make up Tikkun

Middot, as well as specific information about this curriculum and how to lead it well. Please read the

introduction in its entirety and refer back to it as you prepare to lead your sessions.

1 Soul traits are character traits such as patience, humility, trust and courage.

2 Rabbi Micha Berger, AishDas Society

3 See www.mussarinstitute.org for more information about The Mussar Institute

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INTRODUCTION TO KEY IDEAS, MODALITIES AND PRACTICES

KEY IDEAS

Tikkun Middot is a spiritual technology designed to help us, as individuals and as a community, embody

the highest ideals of the Torah in service of the ultimate repair of the world. The following ideas are

central to Mussar and Tikkun Middot practice:

We are souls4. The inner, spiritual life is real. The compelling purpose of creation is to integrate

physical matter with spirituality, thus endowing creation with holiness. Tikkun Middot is the

practice of increasing our capacity to serve as vessels for holiness by bringing soulfulness to our

engagement with the world. We build ourselves as vessels by mobilizing our innate yearning for

holiness, and our character traits, ego and imagination to live in closer alignment with God,

ourselves and others.

The yetzer hara is poorly translated as the “evil inclination” because it is not necessarily

negative. It is our teacher. The yetzer hara is generally experienced as the critical voice that

weakens our resolve, or the impulse that pushes us to do things we know are not good for us or

others. When seen from the right perspective, the yetzer hara is constantly teaching us exactly

where and how we can grow closer to God, ourselves and others. It is an invaluable resource.

Tikkun Middot practice teaches us how to understand the yetzer hara ‘s potential as an engine

for growth and service.

In the words of Dr. Alan Morinis, founder of The Mussar Institute, each person has a unique soul

curriculum that will guide him/her on a path of growth. Our role is to discern our personal

curriculum, and utilize every opportunity for growth.

The middot/soul traits are our levers for growth. Mussar teacher Rabbi David Lapin uses the

following analogy to explain the role of the middot. An airplane has instruments and controls.

The pilot uses the instruments, like the altimeter, to tell how high or low the plane is flying.

Similarly, we have instruments to tell us how we are doing. These instruments are our emotional

and physical state, the quality of our relationships with others and the quality of our spiritual

lives. Our body is constantly giving us information about how we are doing. Likewise, our

relationships with our children, partners, community and colleagues are sources of information.

When the plane is flying too low, the pilot does not bang on the altimeter to get it to fly higher.

4 I first heard this idea from Rabbi Avraham Sutton

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Rather, the pilot uses the controls. Similarly with us, if a relationship is not going well it is not

helpful to bang on the other person. Rather, we need to use our controls. Our controls are our

middot. Tikkun Middot is the practice of manipulating our middot so we can live in a soulful way

aligned with our values.

Tikkun Middot is intimately connected to Tikkun Olam. Much of the suffering, injustice and

overall dysfunction in human societies is a result of middot being out of balance. While one

individual being out of balance may not have much of an impact, an imbalance multiplied

millions of times across a population will lead to policies and social structures that do not reflect

the holiness and dignity of human life. Injustice is only effectively addressed by dealing with

both the structural and internal middot levels of imbalance.

Tikkun Middot is a practical discipline built on the experiences of daily life. It is highly accessible

to anyone willing to be reflective.

FEATURES AND MODALITIES OF TIKKUN MIDDOT PRACTICE

Tikkun Middot practice is:

Systematic and structured: it provides practical tools for taking charge of one’s spiritual growth

through structured personal practice

Holistic: it engages the mind, heart and body

Social: it involves others in the growth process

Spiritual: it provides an opportunity to invite God, as one understands God, into the growth

process

Tikkun Middot practice takes place in three modalities:

1. va’ad (the periodic group meeting)

2. chevruta (partner meeting in between va’ad meetings)

3. personal practice (including meditations, kabbalot – small challenges we give ourselves, and

reflection)

TIKKUN MIDDOT PRACTICES

These practices for spiritual growth draw from Mussar and Chassidic traditions as developed over the

past several centuries. The structure for the practices that you will find at the end of each session is

adapted from the structure for Mussar practice designed by Dr. Alan Morinis and Dr. Shirah Bell of the

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Mussar institute. Please refer back to the descriptions of each practice below as needed when you are

leading your sessions.

Torah Learning: One of the things that separate Tikkun Middot practice from secular approaches to

growth is its grounding in traditional Jewish ideas about the middot. We draw on thousands of years of

Jewish wisdom regarding human behavior, relationships and spirituality in thinking about how we want

to behave. The first step in TMP is to understand the Torah perspectives on a particular middah. These

often become aspirations and directions for our growth. We do not need to necessarily agree with

everything we read in our literature about the middot, but these ideas are the starting point for our

inquiry.

Focus phrase: The focus phrase is one or two sentences that direct the mind of the practitioner towards

awareness of the middah. For example, a focus phrase for working on thoughtful speech/Sh’mirat

HaLashon could be, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue/ הלשון ביד וחיים מוות ” (Sha’arei

Teshuvah, Rabbeinu Yonah). Focus phrases are repeated for a minute or two every morning when one is

working on a particular middah. It works well to write the focus phrase on an index card and put it

somewhere you will see it at least once each day. Some people tape them to their car dashboard, others

on their computer. Focus phrases from traditional sources have a particular power, but they can come

from any source. Some of the best focus phrases are made up by the practitioner. Most importantly, the

focus phrase is repeated each morning and raises awareness of the middah throughout the day.

Kabbalah/קבלה (plural, Kabbalot): A small act taken upon oneself to facilitate growth in a particular

middah. For example, if one is working on generosity, a classic Kabbalah is to give a little more money to

people asking on the street than one is used to giving each day. Kabbalot have two purposes: creating a

positive habit through regular repetition, and bringing unconscious resistance regarding a certain

middah into conscious awareness. The word “Kabbalah” comes from the Hebrew root K.B.L for

“accept/receive.” One accepts a Kabbalah upon oneself. Kabbalot need to be small and easily

achievable.

Cheshbon Hanefesh/ חנפש חשבון : Cheshbon Hanefesh (“accounting of the soul”) is a core Tikkun Middot

practice dating back to the time of the sages of the Mishnah. This curriculum proposes two different

ways of doing Cheshbon Hanefesh: journaling and hitbodedut.

Journaling: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin, in his book Cheshbon Hanefesh (1810), proposes keeping a

record of one’s success and failures with a particular middah in a chart form. Each success or failure gets

a check mark in the chart and after a period of time one can see a record of practice. Dr. Alan Morinis in

Climbing Jacob’s Ladder (2002) proposes writing a narrative journal for each day of practice with a

middah. I personally find this form of Cheshbon Hanefesh journaling, as Morinis calls it, more effective

and rewarding. The first stage of Mussar practice is building awareness and greater sensitivity to our

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inner worlds and the world around us. Regular journaling is a time-tested method for building this

sensitivity. The practice is called Cheshbon Hanefesh journaling because Cheshbon Hanefesh, literally

“Soul Accounting,” means keeping track of your soul growth. The yetzer hara makes us forget those

small, but significant moments of growth that happen all the time. See the practice sheet in the Bechirah

Point session for tips about this type of journaling.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s Hitbodedut: Hitbodedut literally means solitude. It refers to setting time to

oneself for meditation and/or reflection, and is an essential part of any spiritual practice. For Chassidic

master Rebbe Nachman, Hitbodedut is a particular practice of speaking out one’s thoughts to God

spontaneously, in one’s native language, as a regular and even daily practice. While Rebbe Nachman

extolled the virtues of Hitbodedut in nature, any private place works. Hitbodedut is a powerful practice

for developing one’s relationship with God, and can be an alternative Cheshbon Hanefesh practice for

those who find journaling challenging.

Note: The value in journaling is that one can return months later and review their experience with the

middot. This is particularly valuable before the High Holidays when one reviews the year as part of

teshuvah. Personally, I have found my journal to be one of the most powerful mirrors I have on my life.

That said, some people find journaling more difficult and prefer alternative modes of Cheshbon

Hanefesh.

Sichat chaverim/chevruta/ חברים שיחת : A discussion between friends. From Breslov Chassidut, a sichat

chaverim (plural, sichot) is a discussion between friends in which each person talks about his spiritual life

and practice. While a chevruta is typically a relationship for learning traditional Jewish texts, in Tikkun

Middot practice, we use the chevruta relationship for both text learning and spiritual support.

MINDFULNESS AND TIKKUN MIDDOT PRACTICE

Tikkun Middot practice is consonant with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s approach to integrating

mindfulness with Jewish spiritual practice, cultivating awareness and “waking up” on a moment-to-

moment basis. The deep experience with mindfulness practice that Institute alumni bring to Tikkun

Middot can deeply enhance these practices. Mindfulness is essential to many aspects of Tikkun Middot

practice. For example, the first stage of Tikkun Middot and Mussar is הרגש/sensitivity. Mindful

awareness of our surroundings and our “inner landscape” enhances our consciousness of choices

available to us and thereby our freedom to wisely apply middot in our decision-making. This curriculum

encourages participants to ground classic Mussar practices in an ongoing practice of mindfulness,

growing in awareness of ourselves and others.

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INTRODUCTION TO THIS TIKKUN MIDDOT CURRICULUM

This curriculum is designed for use by adults in self-facilitated, small group learning settings. The

curriculum starts with two perspectives that are the foundation of all middot-based spiritual practice –

adopting a stance of learning/Hitlamdut and awareness of choice/Bechirah points. The following eight

sessions focus on a different middah, or soul trait. Each session includes a facilitator’s guide, a

traditional source for study and practices. The curriculum includes the following sessions:

1. Hitlamdut

2. Bechira Points

3. Anavah

4. Savlanut and Ka’as

5. Chesed

6. Kavod

7. Sh’tikah-Sh’mirat HaLashon

8. Bitachon

9. Emunah

10. Seder

RATIONALE

We chose these particular middot because they will not only help your community members grow

spiritually as individuals, but also will strengthen the human relationships that are the bedrock of a

healthy religious community.

The first two topics are not actually middot, but are perspectives and practices foundational to Mussar.

Hitlamdut is the practice of cultivating a stance of non-judgmental curiosity towards our experiences,

and making what we learn deeply impact our lives. The mitlamed/et adopts the stance of a learner,

constantly asking, “what is happening right now? How can I learn from this and how does this relate to

my life?” One of the dangers of Mussar is that the practitioner can become overly judgmental of herself

and others who are not working as actively on self-improvement. Adopting a stance of learner towards

one’s own character development softens this judgment and turns all our practice into growth

opportunities. Hitlamdut practice relies on awareness and thus is a good place to start for Institute-

trained rabbis.

The Bechirah Point, or Choice Point, according to Mussar master Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, is that point at

which what we know to be right meets our temptations and appetites. Our growing edge is at our

Bechirah points. The more aware we become of these points the better chance we have to act in

growthful, life-affirming ways with others and ourselves. We will use the language and practice of

Bechirah points with each of our middot throughout the curriculum.

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We start our study of middot with Anavah/Humility because more than any other middah, it goes to the

essence of our self-concept. Anavah is a sense of healthy self-esteem, where one can accurately

perceive how much space to take or give in any particular situation. Communities function well when

members have appropriate Anavah and are challenged when even one person consistently takes more

or less than their space.

Savlanut/Patience follows Anavah because it is a building block for healthy interpersonal relations and

communities. If we live in close contact with other people, this middah is challenged often. The inner

capacities we develop by working on Savlanut, such as observing our own reactions, will be employed in

all of our other middot practice. We will also explore the role of anger in spiritual life.

The next three middot, Chesed/Lovingkindness, Kavod/Respect and Sh’tika-Sh’mirat HaLashon/Silence

and Mindful Speech are essential for infusing communities with purpose and warmth. While Savlanut

often involves holding oneself back from reacting, Chesed/Loving Kindness calls on us to notice the

needs of others and give. How people practice Chesed can make the difference whether a community

feels warm and inclusive or formal and distant.

When Chesed is done well it, it enhances Kavod/Respect for individuals and in the community as a

whole. Kavod means respect, honor and dignity and derives from the Hebrew root K.V.D./ .ד.ב.כ

meaning “heavy.” To treat another with Kavod is to accord them weight and significance. The opposite is

to treat someone as קל/Kal, meaning light or insignificant; the Hebrew word for curse, K’lalah/קללה

derives from the same root. We honor someone by treating them with due significance and we curse

them when we treat them lightly. When we treat others with Kavod, we recognize the holy, divine

image within them.

Speech is one of our most powerful tools for creating or destroying relationships. Through the middah of

Sh’tika-Sh’mirat HaLashon/Silence and Mindful Speech, we will explore how to listen and hear deeply

before speaking.

The next two middot, Bitachon/Trust, Emunah/Trustworthiness center around the idea of trust and

security. Bitachon generally refers to trust in God and is related to Bitachon Atzmi, trust in oneself.

Anxiety and insecurity can be major issues in our communities. Bitachon addresses how to live with a

sense of trust. Emunah is usually translated as “Faith” but also means “Trustworthiness.” While Bitachon

is a more general sense of trust in God and/or someone or something beyond ourselves, Emunah is the

trust we create through acting with integrity. Do we keep our word, follow-through and show up when

we say we will? These are Emunah questions.

Our final middah is Seder/Order, which is compared to the clasp on a necklace on which all the other

middot are pearls. While the clasp has little inherent value, without it all the pearls would scatter. Seder

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helps us express all our other good middot. After a season of character development, Seder helps us

summarize what we learned and how we want to organize and direct our practice for the future.

USE OF SOURCES

This curriculum draws upon classic and contemporary Mussar and Hassidic sources as well as primary

texts from Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and rabbinic tradition. For example: the unit on Savlanut/Forbearance

draws on the first chapter of Tomer Devorah; Anavah/Humility on Talmudic discussions and an excerpt

from Chovot Halevavot/Duties of the Heart; and, Seder/Organization on excerpts from Sefer Cheshbon

Hanefesh and Da’at Chochmah U’Mussar.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tikkun Middot and Mussar are deeply personal practices. Over many years, I’ve heard from students

that personal examples from the facilitator are extremely helpful for their own practice. For this reason I

include anecdotes from my own life in many of the essays about the middot. I came to this practice from

the world of Jewish social justice. As a spiritually and psychologically-inclined young adult, I was looking

for something in Judaism that would connect the inner-life with right, ethical behavior on the

interpersonal and societal levels.

I was excited and pleased when I was introduced to Tikkun Middot, Mussar and the teachings of Rebbe

Nachman of Breslov all in my first year of yeshiva studies. I completed my studies in a Breslov-based

Yeshiva while continuing to learn the writings of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d. 2005, Jerusalem), the greatest

Mussar teacher of the past generation. Over the past fourteen years I have woven these various

traditions into a nourishing personal spiritual practice. As an educator and rabbi, my goal is to bring

these rich teachings and practices to the wider Jewish community as tools to help us fulfill our ancient

mission of being a holy people who bring blessing and transformation to the entire world.

GUIDELINES FOR THE FACILITATOR:

The following guidelines are derived from the author’s years of Mussar va’ad facilitation experience:

Establish a safe container: This is not a typical Jewish learning environment of debate and

disagreement. There will be space for analysis and discussion, but the most important work that

happens is the individual’s exploration of his/her inner life in the company of fellow seekers. We

establish safety by agreeing to certain group boundaries such as confidentiality, and through the

facilitator modeling safe behavior and ensuring accountability to boundaries. It is critical for the

facilitator to intervene at the first violation of the agreed-upon boundaries, such as advice giving.

Share personal examples: Students learn a lot through the personal examples of the facilitator. You are

most likely the most experienced person in the room. In the spirit of Hitlamdut, it is helpful for you to

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share that you are also a student and always growing. Share specific examples from your own life with

the different middot. Rabbis working with congregants or teachers with young students will need to

figure out appropriate boundaries. However, it is crucial to find something you can share from your

experiences. These will most likely be the things your students remember and what gives them chizuk

(encouragement) to stick with the practices.

Soften the critical voice: One of the challenges of middot development is that our critical voice can take

hold of our efforts at growth and use any imperfection to be even more critical! This is not helpful to our

growth. As facilitator, it is very important that you affirm each participant’s basic goodness. We are all

holy souls with a pure neshamah. Tikkun Middot is aimed at removing obstacles to letting this holy soul

shine. The more a student can connect with this essential goodness and holiness, the more success he or

she will have with Tikkun Middot techniques.

It is okay to say, “I don’t know:” If you don’t know an answer to a question, your students will respect

you saying you don’t know and will get back to them (again, this will depend on the boundaries of your

relationship if you are in a rabbi/congregant situation). Then do your research and get back to them. You

can also turn to other members of the group in the moment and ask if they know the answer. This

models appropriate humility because we are all learning.

Model every assignment: When you introduce a practice like journaling or Kabbalot, it works best to

demonstrate the practice, and then have them practice it during class. While you may not be able to

demonstrate an actual Kabbalah (like giving money to the poor) you can have people brainstorm

Kabbalot together.

Set sichot chaverim meeting times before leaving the room: Have chaverim set their times before they

leave the room at the end of the session.

Long-term chaverim develop greater trust: I recommend having the pairs stay together for the course.

Time boundaries: Do your best to start and end on time. I like using a timer during the sharing period to

give everyone a firm time boundary. I find that this increases safety. However, if it seems too rigid for

your group you may want to reevaluate.

Balance sharing/listening with discussion: It is important for groups to be able to openly discuss the

middot or questions about practices. These open discussions are an important counterpoint to the

heavily boundaried sharing time.

Time and flow: Be thoughtful about the flow of activities. The facilitator’s guide has estimated times.

Groups appreciate a session that flows crisply from one activity to the next.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON TIKKUN MIDDOT PRACTICE

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

In the Tikkun Middot Project there is an intention to integrate insights and practices from mindfulness

into the development of middot. Mindfulness has been central to the work of the Institute for Jewish

Spirituality since its formation. It shares with Mussar the intention to cultivate one’s inner life through

awareness and to train one’s heart and mind in order to bring greater goodness to the world.

In the rush and bustle of daily life, it is very difficult to learn to be connected to one’s inner life. We all

tend to react to situations based on our habits. We are all conditioned to protect ourselves from pain

and to seek the pleasant and the known. This becomes our automatic reactions to circumstances that

stimulate or trigger us. In mindfulness practice, through paying careful attention, we begin to observe

these patterns and gain the space and freedom from them to evaluate how well they are serving our

most sincere values and goals.

Mindfulness practice is the art of discrimination. It is the cultivation of wisdom. We learn to distinguish

between habits, thoughts, behaviors and patterns that are helpful and those that are habitual and may

not serve our deeper values. We might say we are distinguishing the “false self” or the “separate self”

from the more authentic self or soul. The process of discrimination depends on the development of

awareness or the ability to see clearly how our minds work, how our habitual minds are triggered by

circumstances and how our thoughts lead us to speech and action.

In order to accomplish this, it is enormously helpful to have some silent time and gentle instruction. This

has been a central feature of Institute for Jewish Spirituality retreats. We simply sit and learn to observe

the movement of our bodies, feelings and thoughts. This is the formal sitting practice of mindfulness

meditation. It is also valuable to be able to ask questions about one’s inner experience in a safe setting

(either in a group of people practicing or one on one with the teacher). The silence minimizes outside

distraction and helps develop concentration. In the early stages of practice we return again and again to

the felt sense of our body in this moment, often resting our attention on the breath as it comes and

goes. This allows the mind to settle down because we do not add stimulation and we resist following our

thoughts. The settled or clear mind is not empty, however. It is rather more stable and able to perceive

its own content and process.

Instruction and dialogue give language to the inner experience. We come to understand universal

patterns as they play themselves out in our own lives. We see how tension and constriction (including

fear, judgment, anger, blame, shame) arise naturally. They are a product of our conditioning. They seem

to offer protection but often increase suffering. They come with full blown narratives, analyses and

explanations. We have a strong tendency to follow their lead and to believe them.

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In mindfulness practice we don’t punish ourselves for these reactions. We don’t push them away. We

acknowledge that they are themselves unpleasant. We practice softening and allowing ourselves to be

with the truth of this moment in whatever way it is appearing. We resist following every thought that

appears in the mind. We begin to see that a lot of the thoughts are fanciful, dream like, repetitive,

habitual, flimsy. We breathe into the physical area where we feel the most tension. We wait and rest

back in what is true right now. We allow space to open. In that space is more freedom. Response is

spacious. Reactivity tends to be constricted or less free.

The practice of mindfulness has as its intention to continue to observe what is arising from moment to

moment in one’s experience. It is a practice of telling ourselves the truth. In this process we observe or

witness the nature of mind, we see how conflict occurs, how illusion is born and grows, how connected

each moment is to the next and how transient is every thought, experience, conclusion, sense of

completion and perfection. We also practice setting an intention for ourselves, such as the paying

attention to each breath, and then we notice how distracted we become. We notice the possibility and

effort it takes to return once again to our intention. This practice allows us to appreciate the power of

intention and the power of teshuvah, returning again and again without remorse or recrimination to the

task we have set.

In mindfulness practice, we seek to bring sustained attention to our inner lives. We affirm through our

own experience that the act of pausing, listening and paying attention serves to reveal the One that

eternally dwells within as well as the obstacles that obscure our sense of connection to the One. We

create communities and engage in practices to align ourselves with the unity and patiently reveal the

insubstantiality of the obstacles that separate us from it. We work carefully, with great compassion for

ourselves and each other and the process itself.

Mindfulness is a mode of careful attentiveness to the whole of one’s experience. It emphasizes telling

the truth, respecting one’s experience, responding rather than reacting, and gently returning one’s

attention again and again to the initial intention of the practice. It involves an awareness of

impermanence, and the interconnection of all that is and a deep appreciation of the fact that every act

has an intention and a consequence.

WHAT IS SUCCESS?

In mindfulness or any spiritual practice we seek an inner success that differs greatly from the usual

sense of the word. We are seeking to understand spiritual principles. Mindfulness is conducive to this

learning because there is no content to master. Rather it is about awakening to the truth of one’s own

experience. One’s own experience will be unique and constantly changing. In the process one is

confronted with how frightening it is to let go of control that comes from the mastery of content.

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When we simply rest in the awareness of what is arising and passing from moment to moment we often

assume that something is supposed to happen that will show us we are on the right track. We expect a

particular kind of experience. However, this is not the case. Rather we are encouraged to be accepting

and trusting of whatever arises. Because everyone is having their own interior experience, there is no

way to judge success or failure by comparing or competing as we are accustomed to doing in school and

in life. Rather, by setting an intention, losing and regaining attention, and falling asleep and waking up –

again and again – we are cultivating patience, tolerance, compassion and love.

THE RELATION BETWEEN MINDFULNESS AND MIDDOT

Mindfulness and the cultivation of awakened attention are central to all the middot work which asks us

to pay attention to the inner life. We set as an intention, for instance, the cultivation of generosity. We

use mindfulness to notice the experience of generosity or its absence. Rather than judge or attack

ourselves when we fall short, the quality of mindfulness allows us to simply know our experience,

pleasant or unpleasant, as it is revealed to us. We might notice that when we are generous our mind is

more relaxed; we are less fearful, less tense. With the steadiness of mindfulness we acquire inner

knowledge of how our lives work. We see how the development of the middot strengthens our hearts,

adds clarity to our minds and supports the emergence of wise decisions and caring actions.

Mindfulness itself is a factor potentially present in each moment we show up in our lives. All the middot

are our inheritance and our potential. They all exist within us and are called forth as we practice and

work together in sacred, intimate and intentional community. Mindfulness like generosity, gratitude,

humility and all the other middot exists only in this present moment. Indeed, part of the practice of

middot and mindfulness is to recognize how rare and challenging it is to be in this moment. Likewise,

each of the middot shares with mindfulness a sense of ease, spaciousness and non-constriction.

Mindfulness and our soul qualities are not fear based. They are not worried about having enough,

knowing enough or doing enough. They are not grasping. They arise from contentment with this

moment rather than the habitual pursuit of what is coming next or regretting what just happened.

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HITLAMDUT: A STANCE OF LEARNING INTRODUCTORY SESSION

KEY IDEAS

Tikkun Middot practice offers a structured way to grow and bring more holiness into one’s life

and the life of a community.

Adopting a stance of learning is a key first step in Tikkun Middot practice.

Tikkun Middot practice involves group and partner meetings as well as personal practice.

PRACTICE

The curriculum introduces various practices over the course of the first several sessions. We start with

the practice called Kabbalot.

1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (10–15 MINUTES)

Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being. The activity shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention towards

the present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention from the other

before switching.

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 10–15 minutes

Introduction to the Tikkun Middot Project 15 minutes

Va’ad check-in 30 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: Hitlamdut 35–40 minutes

Practice: Kabbalot 15 minutes

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Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

listener can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

Note: If this is the first time this group is meeting, you may decide to skip these opening exercises and

start with the introduction and guidelines below. Use your discretion.

2. INTRODUCTION TO THE TIKKUN MIDDOT PROJECT (15 MINUTES)

This is the time to introduce your group to the key features of the program. To prepare, it will be helpful

for you to read over the introduction chapter. Main points include:

Tikkun Middot practice offers a structured way to grow and bring more holiness into one’s life and the

life of the community. The middot are soul traits like trust, patience, courage and humility.

You may want to share this metaphor from Mussar teacher, Rabbi David Lapin, to explain the role of the

middot. An airplane has instruments and controls. The pilot uses the instruments, like the altimeter, to

tell how high or low the plane is flying. Similarly, we have instruments to tell us how we are doing. These

instruments are our emotional and physical state, the quality of our relationships with others and the

quality of our spiritual lives. Our body is constantly giving us information about how we are doing.

Likewise, our relationships with our children, partners, and colleagues are sources of information. When

the plane is flying too low, the pilot does not bang on the altimeter to get it to fly higher. Rather, the

pilot uses the controls. Similarly with us, if a relationship is not going well, it is not helpful to bang on the

other person. Rather, we need to use our controls. Our controls are our middot. Tikkun Middot is the

practice of becoming aware of our capacity to choose to apply middot which enable us to live in a

soulful way, aligned with our values.

Tikkun Middot practice draws heavily from the Mussar tradition. Mussar means instruction/discipline

and implies turning oneself in a positive direction (sur mei-ra – turn away from the wrong path, Psalms

34). In some ways, Mussar is as old as the Torah itself (kedoshim t’hiyu – you shall be holy, Leviticus

19:2). Mussar developed as a distinct genre of Jewish ethical literature and practice starting in the 11th

century. Maimonides, the Kabbalists of Safed, Hassidim and 19th century Lithuanian talmudists all

produced Mussar literature. Rabbi Israel Salanter, a leading 19th century Lithuanian Torah scholar,

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developed the Mussar movement to systematize and popularize Mussar teachings and practices. In the

past two decades there has been a Mussar renaissance in North American liberal Jewish communities,

driven primarily by the work of Dr. Alan Morinis of The Mussar Institute (TMI) and Rabbi Ira Stone of The

Mussar Leadership Institute. This curriculum is based on traditional Mussar sources and is influenced by

TMI’s work in communicating this ancient tradition to modern audiences.

Tikkun Middot practice takes place in three modalities: the va’ad (the periodic group meeting), the

chevruta (the partner meeting in between va’ad meetings) and personal practice (including meditations,

small challenges we give ourselves, and reflection).

GUIDELINES

Tikkun Middot va’adim and chevruta work best when participants feel safe enough to share with each

other about their personal journeys and practice with the middot. To create a container that encourages

such sharing, we ask that va’ad participants read and agree to the following guidelines, which can also

be found in the format of a handout at the end of this chapter. Please photocopy and distribute the

handout to va’ad participants.

Know that there is genuine freedom in the va’ad. We do not engage in “forced sharing.” Every

invitation to speak and participate is just that: an invitation. Passing or staying quiet is perfectly

acceptable.

We do not engage in “fixing, advising, saving or setting straight” (Parker J. Palmer). Each of us is

here to refine our ability to listen to the still, small voice inside. We are working to trust that we

will each find our own way and refrain from acting on the desire to give advice. Open questions

that help the speaker probe deeper into his or her inner life are welcome at designated times.

Give your full attention to the person speaking. Do not engage in side conversations. Use “I”

statements when speaking. Be aware of how much space you are taking up.

Respect difference. Remind yourself that other people are not failed attempts at being you!

Cultivate curiosity.

Each person in the va’ad commits to both conventional and double confidentiality. Conventional

confidentiality means that we do not speak to anyone outside the group about what is shared in

this group. Double confidentiality means that when a person shares a confidence that we sense

makes them vulnerable, we do not raise the issue again with that person or anyone else in the

group, without the invitation of the person in question.

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AGENDA

Each va’ad meeting is structured as follows:

1. Contemplative opening

2. Check-in about our experiences with the middah

3. Learn Torah about the next middah

4. Review and decide on practices for the next period of time

Since tonight is the opening session, the agenda is slightly different in that we will start with sharing

about our spiritual journeys rather that talking about experiences with a middah.

3. VA’AD CHECK-IN (30 MINUTES)

For the first session of the series, this is the time for people to make extended introductions. Give the

group a minute of silence to think of an important spiritual moment from any time in their life. Give

everyone three minutes to share this moment and how it factors into what brings them to participate in

this group. You can invite them to include other details from their spiritual journey.

Note: this is not a time for advice giving, making comments or any other type of cross talk. Each

member of the group will get his or her turn to speak. It is very important for establishing trust

and safety that the facilitator uphold the guidelines and interrupt any advice giving or criticism

of each other’s comments during the va’ad sharing. It is the facilitator’s responsibility to make

sure that people stay to the agreed time boundary. Allow for at least one minute of silence

after the check-in.

4. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

5. LEARNING: HITLAMDUT (35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the practice or middah.

INTRODUCTION TO HITLAMDUT (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Hitlamdut based on your

own study and practice. Then introduce the text, e.g. give context if it is a Torah story or a passage from

the Talmud. This curriculum provides three options for study during the va’ad.

1. Introductory Essay: A short one-two page essay about the middah or topic. It includes personal

anecdotes, the author’s interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written

in a conversational tone and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in

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classic Beit Midrash style text study. The essay is also useful for the facilitator to get a quick

overview of the middah or topic as background for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet. It includes a brief introduction to the text, primary

sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary sources in

Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: Short primary sources with study questions that can serve as extensions

during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study outside of the

va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

though they used different source sheets.

CHEVRUTA (15-20 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, pair work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10-15 minutes): Discuss the main points in the text.

6. PRACTICE: KABBALOT (15 MINUTES)

Now is the time to introduce the first Tikkun Middot practice – Kabbalot. A Kabbalah is a small and

attainable challenge that a practitioner takes on to develop a middah. Please see the introduction for

more information. Kabbalot, a traditional Mussar practice, are designed to bring the unconscious into

the light of awareness by creating inner tension. They are also designed to habituate oneself to positive

behaviors.

It is essential that Kabbalot are easy to do. A Kabbalah that is difficult will backfire by arousing all the

negative messages of the inner critic (e.g. I am a failure, I can never stick with these types of practices,

this is not worth the effort, etc.) These practices are called Kabbalot (from the Hebrew root for receive)

because one accepts them upon oneself and one receives understanding from them.

REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): Review the practice sheet with the group and offer examples of

your own experience with Kabbalot.

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DECIDE ON A KABBALAH (5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation, each member decides on a

personal Kabbalah, suggested in the practice sheet or made up by the participant.

CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each participant shares the Kabbalah that they will practice this month.

Note: Before they leave, have chevruta pairs set a time to meet before the next group session.

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HITLAMDUT

The term Hitlamdut/התלמדות means to cultivate a stance of curiosity and openness towards all of life’s

experiences, and to internalize what we learn. A Mitlamed or mitlamedet/מתלמד is someone who can

see how any particular situation or learning applies to her life. The word is the reflexive form of the

verb, “To Learn” or למד, in Hebrew. Maimonides, in his Laws of Torah Study, writes that Hitlamdut is the

essence of Torah learning. Torah learning is not just for the sake of gaining information. Rather, its

purpose is to impact and transform our lives. Hitlamdut is the quality that makes our learning

transformative. When we practice Hitlamdut:

1. Our learning comes alive: Habit and learning by rote undermine spiritual growth. When we read

the Torah portion of the week for the umpteenth time and think, “I’ve read this story about

Abraham before,” and feel nothing new, we are not practicing hitlamdut. You are a mitlamed/et

when you hear the Abraham story again and see something you never saw before. You see the

story with new eyes and realize how a certain detail relates to your life. Such realizations

energize us, make the texts come alive, and keep us growing. This is one type of hitlamdut.

2. We grow from our experiences: We experience all kinds of things, good and bad, all day long—

our children don’t do what we ask them, we get an award at work, a storm knocks out our

electricity for a week. These experiences may not impact us at all. We may take them in stride or

we may explode in anger and then move on. The mitlamed/et looks for the learnings in these

experiences. “Hmm, my children are still not listening when I ask them to set the table. What

can I learn about myself from this? Maybe I don’t speak to them in the right tone? Maybe I need

to play with them more before dinner time?” The mitlamed/et reads life as learning

opportunities.

Hitlamdut is not a middah. It is a stance of learning and growth with which we approach life.

Hitlamdut is the first step in Mussar practice. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe z”l, the late 20th century Mussar

master, warned of two dangers when beginning to work on middot. The first is arrogance. Whenever we

work to improve ourselves we are in danger of thinking we are better than others who aren’t trying to

become more kind, generous or patient. I’ve experienced this most starkly in my eating practice.

Because of health reasons, my wife and I eat primarily a raw-vegan diet. Many times in my workplace

during lunch I feel superior with my salad to those people eating pizza and fries. Such an attitude is

obviously bad for relationships, but it is also bad for your own spiritual growth. The other danger is self-

criticism and despair. Our efforts at self-improvement usually start with enthusiasm and energy. I

remember a time I wanted to become more organized. I committed to keeping track of my activities

every 20 minutes of the day. I kept a detailed journal for about four days. I then couldn’t keep it up and I

got sick. I think my body was telling me that I took on too much. This is what Rav Wolbe calls the כח

the force of inner rebellion. Similarly I’ve heard from many Mussar students over the years – המרידה

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that their practice is just giving fodder to their inner critic. When they can’t journal every day or

remember to focus on the middot, they feel like failures.

Hitlamdut is an antidote to these two challenges. When we practice Hitlamdut we are just practicing

something, not claiming that we can do it well. When I want to work on the middah of

Savlanut/Patience while standing in a long check-out line at the supermarket, I will say to myself, “What

would a patient person feel like now?” rather than force myself to actually be patient1. The difference in

these approaches is profound. If everything is just practice, than there is nothing for me to be arrogant

about. I’m not claiming to be patient, I’m just practicing patience. Similarly, this approach undermines

the critical and rebellious voice. What is there to criticize or rebel against? I’m just practicing something.

At a gathering of his students in North America, Rav Wolbe asked, “What is the main thing you learned

from me?” One student said, “Patience,” another, “Chesed,” and another “Trust” and so on until the

dozens of students answered. At the end Rav Wolbe exclaimed, “I have no students!” “What are you

talking about?” they asked, “We learned so much from you.” He answered, “My main thing is Hitlamdut.

That is what I am here to teach!” A stance of Hitlamdut is the beginning of all middot growth2.

We apply a stance of Hitlamdut to all we do in our practice. One aspect is observation. This is a place

where mindfulness practice dovetails nicely with Tikkun Middot and Mussar. We try to see the familiar

as new. A classic practice is to take a rote activity like brushing teeth and notice how you brush your

teeth. Or notice how you say a b’rachah (blessing) that you say many times a day. See outside of the

habit and watch yourself or others. Another aspect is an attitude of acceptance towards our

imperfection. If we feel we need to be perfect, there is no room for learning. When I can accept that I

am not perfect at Chesed or organization, there is room to learn. Finally, the perspective that life

continuously presents me with learning opportunities, helps me see my experiences as such. The goal of

Hitlamdut is to break out of rote living and let the growth begin!

Questions for Consideration

What are one or two areas of your life in which it is easiest for you to show interest? These can

include an area of your work, family life or hobby. In what ways does your focus in one of these

areas tend to get rote or routine?

In what ways can it be difficult or challenging for you to pay attention outside of these areas of

interest? For example, I am naturally drawn to the inner life and can easily spend hours reading

1 I heard this technique from Rabbi Avi Fertig, author of Bridging the Gap.

2 As told by Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe, Rav Wolbe’s grandson.

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spiritual texts and meditating. I find it difficult to pay attention to and show interest in home

repairs, even when these are calling out to me!

Another aspect of Hitlamdut practice is letting what we learn make a real impact on the way we

feel and think about the world. What is an example of something you observed recently that

really had an impact on you, or “got inside?” How did it feel?

Imagine applying Hitlamdut to your Torah study. How might this change the way you study?

What is a recent example of a connection you were able to make in your Torah study?

In what ways might practicing Hitlamdut make a difference in your roles as a rabbi, friend,

parent, colleague or spouse?

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LEARN THE SOURCES

A STANCE OF LEARNING AND GROWTH: HITLAMDUT

The Hebrew word “Hitlamdut” means to adopt a stance of being a learner and have what we learn

impact us. It is the reflexive form of the Hebrew root for learning – L.M.D. .מ.ד..ל Our source text is from

Aley Shur, volume 2, a popular contemporary book of Mussar instruction by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d.

2005, Israel) and studied regularly by thousands of people around the world. Rav Wolbe was one of the

foremost teachers of Mussar in the second half of the 20th century and advocated Hitlamdut, or being a

mitlamed/et (one who engages everything s/he does as a learner) as the starting point and most

important aspect of working on our middot. He warns that working on one’s middot often can lead to

arrogance and destructive self-criticism. Hitlamdut serves as an antidote because one who sees himself

as simply practicing and learning will diffuse negative self-criticism and has nothing to laud over other

people. Rav Wolbe calls this approach a “way of life” and can be applied to book learning and learning

from life in general.

Rav Wolbe describes the practice of Hitlamdut by quoting from the Mishna (220 CE) and a commentary

by Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv (d. 1898, Kelm, Lithuania). Rav Simcha Zissel was one of the primary disciples

of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (d.1883, Konigsberg), the founder of the 19th Century Mussar movement.

Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? One who learns from every person, as it says, ‘From all my students I

gained wisdom.’ Mishnah Avot 4:1

R. Simcha Zissel Ziv, founder of the Kelm Yeshiva, comments on this famous Mishnaic teaching:

Every person that has a special feeling for a certain endeavor will be extremely sensitive when

she sees any little thing having to do with that endeavor. For example: When a tailor meets

someone he will immediately look at his clothes, the shoemaker – at the shoes, the milliner – at

the hat. Similarly a merchant will be very sensitive to any words or actions that will have an

impact on his merchandise. Another type of person would not see or hear any of these things

because his heart is not given to inquire and investigate anything from these matters because

he has no desire for them … all of this, if one is not engaged in such activities will not notice

them when performed by others. If this is the case, then one who “learns from every person,”

behold, this is a great “merchant,” he trades in everything and thus he understands the

necessity to learn from the other and thus is called “Wise.”

R. Simcha Zissel’s intention is thus: The tailor looks just at the other’s suit, the shoemaker only at the

shoes, the milliner only at his hat. Similarly the one who is [careful about performing all the mitzvoth]

only looks at how the other observes the details of the mitzvoth and the lover of Chesed (acts of

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kindness) at his acts of loving kindness. But the one who learns from all people, learns from the other

ALL that she has to teach, even things that until now were outside the realm of his interests he

understands and learns from the other. The one who learns from all people is open to learning from

everything that she sees in the world.

Questions for Consideration:

In what ways do your natural area(s) of focus tend to get rote or routine?

In what ways can it be difficult to look for “learnings” outside of your natural area of focus?

Another aspect of Hitlamdut practice is letting what we learn make a real impact on the way we

feel and think about the world. What is an example of something you observed recently that

really had an impact on you, or “got inside.” How did it feel?

Imagine applying Hitlamdut to your Torah study. How might this change the way you study?

What is a recent example of a connection you were able to make in your Torah study?

In what ways might practicing Hitlamdut make a difference in your roles as a rabbi, friend,

parent, colleague or spouse?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

HITLAMDUT SOURCES3

The following sources from the Babylonian Talmud and a commentary on the Mishnah explore different

aspects of Hitlamdut.

SOURCE 1: BABYLONIAN TALMUD ERUVIN 100B

אמר רבי יוחנן אילמלא לא ניתנה תורה היינו למידין צניעות מחתול וגזל מנמלה ועריות

מיונה דרך ארץ מתרנגול שמפייס ואחר כך בועל

Rabbi Yochanan said: If the Torah had not been given, we could learn modesty from a cat, not stealing

from ants, fidelity from a pigeon, and proper sexual relations from a rooster who appeases its partner

before engaging in sexual relations.

Questions for Consideration:

What is something you have learned from animals or the natural world?

What conditions need to be there for you to engage in this type of learning?

SOURCE 2: RABBI OVADIA OF BARTENURA (D. CIRCA 1515, JERUSALEM)

Commentary on Mishnah Avot 4:1 (Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? One who learns from every person)

הקטנים מן ולומד כבודו על חס שאינו שכיון ממנו קטן שהוא פ"ואע - אדם מכל הלומד

:בה ולהתפאר להתיהר ולא שמים לשם היא שחכמתו הדברים ניכרים

One who learns from all people: Even though the other is of lesser stature. Since he is not concerned for

his own honor and is willing to learn from those of lesser stature, it is evident that the wisdom he

acquires is for the sake of heaven and not simply for him to show off and aggrandize himself through it.

Questions for Consideration:

Rav Ovadia points out that being overly concerned with our self-image can get in the way of real

learning. In what ways has this particular obstacle impacted you?

What are other obstacles do you encounter to learning from others?

3 These sources are culled from Aley Shur II, Hitlamdut

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SOURCE 3: BABYLONIAN TALMUD SOTAH 2A

לומר לך שכל הרואה סוטה בקלקולה רבי אומר למה נסמכה פרשת נזיר לפרשת סוטה

יזיר עצמו מן היין

Rebbi4 says: Why is the Torah portion about the Nazir (the person who vows to refrain from wine and

having his/her hair cut) put next to the Torah portion about the Sotah (the suspected adulteress who

was assumed to have engaged in excessive drinking which led to her infidelity)? To teach that all who

saw the adulteress woman in her degraded state would surely swear off drinking.

Questions for Consideration:

Rebbi is teaching us that when we see someone having a hard time, rather than blame them for

their struggles, we should look at ourselves and know that we are vulnerable to the same

problems.

What is your instinctive reaction when you hear about a friend, acquaintance or colleague got

him or herself into trouble? If blame is in the mix of reactions, why do you think this is?

Choose an incident where you witnessed or heard about someone struggling with consequences

of poor decisions. Now apply what they are struggling with to your own life – how might you be

similarly vulnerable?

Another aspect of Hitlamdut is treating all that we do, including just going through life, as

practice. We are always just practicing, and should not be so self-righteous or arrogant to think

that we are perfect or invulnerable. Why is this approach important to Hitlamdut, being a self-

reflective learner?

4 Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, or Judah the Prince, redacted the Mishna, the foundational text of Jewish oral law, around

the beginning of the 3rd

century C.E.

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HITLAMDUT PRACTICES

KABBALOT

A Kabbalah is a small, concrete practice that you accept on yourself to grow in a particular middah.

Kabbalot are best if they are limited and concrete and easy to do. The goal of a Kabbalah is to bring

unconscious thoughts and feelings into awareness, thus making choice possible. If a Kabbalah is

continued for several weeks it can also serve to habituate the practitioner to a desired behavior.

Part one: For the first weeks of this time of practice choose a small, routine practice in your life from

which to learn each day—for example, brushing teeth. The idea is not to brush your teeth better, but to

notice what you can learn from the act of brushing your teeth. If you say blessings over food or other

things regularly, what can you learn from the actual practice of saying the blessing? Again, the goal is

not to say the blessing with more kavanah (intention), but to glean something from the experience of

how you say the blessing.

Part two: For the second weeks of this time of practice notice what you can learn from the small actions

of others at least 3x/each day. These can be three things from the same person or from different

people. For example, in synagogue one Shabbat a friend of mine handed me a Bible just before we got

to the Torah reading. I was just about to go get one for myself. I learned from him about seeing the

needs of other people and doing something kind for another person. The goal of the practice is to open

us to noticing others with an eye toward what we can learn.

SICHAT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA

A sichat chaverim literally means “discussion among friends.” In Rebbe Nachman’s circle it meant a

conversation about spiritual matters in which each party shares their experience with spiritual growth.

The purpose of the conversation is to give support and inspire each other by hearing stories about

practice.

Set up a 20-30 minute period of time to talk with your partner as least once between meetings. During

this meeting you will split the time evenly. Choose one person to talk first. During the first person’s time

the listener’s job is to give full attention to the speaker and ask questions that will help the speaker

understand his or her situation better. Do not give any advice or try to solve a problem. Use a timer to

insure that the session is split evenly between both partners.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON HITLAMDUT

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

In middot practice there are many opportunities for reflection in journaling and conversation. This is of

value in building trust and support and harvesting the wisdom that grows as we practice. However, the

practice of cultivating middot occurs in the moment, and is based on one’s ability to cultivate awareness

and a relaxed and accepting attitude toward what is present right now.

Into this spacious place we bring the quality of hitlamdut – non-judgmental exploration of the truth of

my experience, moment to moment. In mindfulness practice this quality is sometimes called curiosity,

investigation or beginner’s mind.

Hitlamdut is the capacity to ask ourselves open ended questions such as: “what is true in this moment?”

In mindfulness practice, we tend to move our attention first to the body. We ask ourselves: What am I

feeling in my body right now? Is there heat? Is there pressure? Where is it? In the stomach? Chest?

Throat? Is it moving? Or pulsing? Does it seem stuck? Then I might ask myself if this experience is

pleasant or unpleasant or neither.

I take a few breaths. I am practicing hitlamdut: can I observe my experience with more precision? Can I

awaken more interest in this moment? Am I frightened? Am I numb? Am I sad? With greater practice

and more space I might be able to observe my thoughts. I move to the balcony of my awareness. I

inhabit the role of witness. There is no agenda except to see the patterns of thought. What is running

through my mind in this moment? Are these stories true? Can I allow them to pass through the mind like

clouds in the sky?

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Va’ad Guidelines

Know that there is genuine freedom in the va’ad. We do not engage in “forced sharing.”

Every invitation to speak and participate is just that: an invitation. Passing or staying quiet is

perfectly acceptable.

We do not engage in “fixing, advising, saving or setting straight” (Parker J. Palmer). Each of

us is here to refine our ability to listen to the still, small voice inside. We are working to trust

that we will each find our own way and refrain from acting on the desire to give advice.

Open questions that help the speaker probe deeper into his or her inner life are welcome at

designated times.

Give your full attention to the person speaking. Do not engage in side conversations. Use “I”

statements when speaking. Be aware of how much space you are taking up.

Respect difference. Remind yourself that other people are not failed attempts at being you!

Cultivate curiosity.

Each person in the va’ad commits to both conventional and double confidentiality.

Conventional confidentiality means that we do not speak to anyone outside the group

about what is shared in this group. Double confidentiality means that when a person shares

a confidence that we sense makes them vulnerable, we do not raise the issue again with

that person or anyone else in the group, without the invitation of the person in question.

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THE BECHIRAH/CHOICE POINT

KEY IDEAS

Our choice-points are the growing edge of our soul curriculum

Each positive choice we make leads to spiritual growth

The location of our choice points is a matter of nature and nurture

PRACTICES:

Learning

Cheshbon Hanefesh

Sichat Chaverim/Chevruta

1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (5–10 MINUTES)

Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being. The activity shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention towards

the present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention from the other

before switching.

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 5–10 minutes

Va’ad 35–40 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: The Bechirah/Choice Point 35–40 minutes

Practice: Learning, Cheshbon Hanefesh, 15 minutes and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

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Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

listener can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

2. VA’AD (35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the va’ad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

the middah and practices of the past period of time.

REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

want to say during their time in the va’ad. Remind them that the main practices of the last month were

Kabbalot about Hitlamdut.

SHARING (3 minutes per person): Try to keep the va’ad sharing to no more than 30 minutes. If the

group is over eight people you may want to break up into small groups of 3–4 people to save time.

Note: It is important to observe the time boundary during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell

that will alert the speaker that his or her time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence,

but if they go on considerably longer, the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up.

It is very important to maintain the time boundary. This helps members feel safe. There is no

cross-talk during the sharing portion of the va’ad. It is ok to say “thank you” or something

equally benign after someone speaks. Warm and accepting body language is just as good. If a

member starts to give advice or comment, it is very important to interrupt and remind the

group that we don’t have cross talk during the va’ad because we want to maintain a safe space.

(You can refer to the guidelines).

SILENCE (1 minute): One minute of silence is important to give people quiet time to honor what was

just shared and to process before entering a discussion.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This time allows for open discussion and sharing ideas about the middah.

Ask people to share insights or questions they have about the middah or the Kabbalot practice. If you

divided the group into small groups, bring everyone back together for the discussion.

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Note: This is not the time for advice giving or advice seeking. If someone does advise, direct

them to talk about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

for advice, redirect the question to the issue in general and not his/her specific case.

3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

4. LEARNING: BECHIRAH/CHOICE POINT (35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

JOURNALING (3–5 minutes): Unlike most learning segments in this curriculum, this session starts with a

brief exercise. Have participants write for 3-5 minutes about anything noteworthy that happened in

their day. They can write in full sentences or bullet-points. You will come back to this journal entry later

for an exercise on identifying Bechirah points.

INTRODUCTION TO BECHIRAH POINT (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Bechirah points based

on your own study and practice. Then introduce the text, e.g. give context if it is a Torah story or a

passage from the Talmud. This curriculum provides three options for study during the va’ad.

1. Introductory Essay: A short one-two page essay about the middah or topic. It includes personal

anecdotes, the author’s interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written

in a conversational tone and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in

classic Beit Midrash style text study. The essay is also useful for the facilitator to get a quick

overview of the middah or topic as background for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet. It includes a brief introduction to the text, primary

sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary sources in

Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: Short primary sources with study questions that can serve as extensions

during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study outside of the

va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

though they used different source sheets.

CHEVRUTA (10–15 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

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answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, pair work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the text.

EXERCISE: IDENTIFYING BECHIRAH POINTS (10 minutes): Send people back to chevruta to review

their journal entries about their day. Give each person five minutes to identify at least one Bechirah

point related to an experience they wrote about in their journal entry. Have each person explain why

his/her experience was a Bechirah point and what middot were involved. After five minutes, ask people

to switch their focus to the second person.

FEEDBACK/QUESTIONS (5 minutes): Take feedback and questions from the exercise. Reassure people

that they will have ample time to practice this technique over the next month, and it is fine if the

concept does not come naturally yet.

5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, CHESHBON HANEFESH JOURNALING AND SICHOT

CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

The new practice for this session is Cheshbon Hanefesh (soul accounting). See the glossary of practices in

the introduction for a longer description of this practice. In short, Cheshbon Hanefesh is a core Tikkun

Middot practice dating back to the time of the sages of the Mishnah. This curriculum proposes two

different ways of doing Cheshbon Hanefesh.

Journaling: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin, in his book Cheshbon Hanefesh (1810), proposes keeping a

record of one’s success and failures with a particular middah in a chart form. Each success or failure gets

a check mark in the chart and after a period of time one can see a record of practice. Dr. Alan Morinis in

Climbing Jacob’s Ladder (2002) proposes writing a narrative journal for each day of practice with a

middah. I personally find this form of Cheshbon Hanefesh journaling, as Morinis calls it, more effective

and rewarding. (See the practice sheet for tips about this type of journaling.)

Rebbe Nachman’s Hitbodedut: Hitbodedut literally means solitude or isolation. It can also refer to

meditation. Hitbodedut, or time to oneself, is an essential part of any spiritual practice. Rebbe

Nachman’s Hitbodedut is a particular practice of speaking aloud one’s thoughts to God in a spontaneous

way in one’s native language. Rebbe Nachman advised his followers to practice Hitbodedut daily as a

form of Cheshbon Hanefesh. Hitbodedut can be effective no matter the length of time a person spends

on it. It is important to find a place and time for the Hitbodedut in which you will not be interrupted and

can be guaranteed privacy. Rebbe Nachman extolled the virtues of doing Hitbodedut in nature and,

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indeed, nature can be an especially good place to practice. But any private place can work. Hitbodedut is

a powerful practice for developing one’s relationship with God. It can also be an alternative Cheshbon

Hanefesh practice for those who find journaling too difficult.

Note: The value in journaling is that one can return months later and review their experience

with the middot. This is particularly valuable before the High Holidays when one reviews the

year as part of teshuvah. Personally, I have found my journal to be one of the most powerful

mirrors I have on my life. That said, some people find journaling more difficult and prefer

alternative modes of Cheshbon Hanefesh.

REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): Review the practice sheet carefully with the group. Give an

example of your own experience with Cheshbon Hanefesh. Solicit questions about the practice and ask

for reflections from participants about their experiences with the practice (this functions as a form of

mutual support).

DECIDE ON A TIME AND METHOD FOR DOING CHESHBON HANEFESH (5 minutes): In pairs or in

silent contemplation, each member decides on a time and method for Chesbhon Hanefesh journaling or

Hitbodedut. This could be something suggested in the practice sheet or something made up by the

participant.

CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each person shares how/when they will do Cheshbon Hanefesh this

month.

Note: Have chevruta partners set a time to meet before the next group session. They should set

up this time before they leave the session.

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THE BECHIRAH POINT

RABBI ELIYAHU DESSLER (D. 1953)1

Free will is a cornerstone of traditional Jewish belief. A defining aspect of humanity is that we choose

how to behave, think and live and that the course of our lives is not predestined by God. The classic

Jewish position on free will is represented by Maimonides in his Laws of Repentance, chapter 5 where

he writes that anyone can be as righteous as Moses or as wicked as the most morally depraved

characters in the Tanakh/Bible2. The choice is ours and our choice is not limited by anything.3 This can be

a liberating idea not to be limited by anything—past decisions, upbringing or current circumstances. This

idea of unlimited free-will even has a ring of New Age to it.

We create our own reality by the choices we make and those choices are never limited. If one wants to

be as righteous as Moshe, go for it. The choice is ours. The dark-side of unlimited free will is that we can

blame ourselves for our circumstances. Since we create our own reality, if we are sick or not succeeding

at work, or not as righteous as Moshe, it is our fault because we have free-will. Unfortunately, it is not

uncommon for people suffering with chronic illnesses be blamed for their illness because of this notion

of unlimited free-will.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, one of the great Mussar teachers of the 20th century, sharpens this concept of

free will in a way that accounts for nature and nurture. He writes that all humans have free will only at

something called a Bechirah/choice point. To explain this idea he offers an example of a man who

coughs heavily at night and cannot sleep. He promises himself that he will not smoke again the next day.

The next morning he thinks, “I’ll have just one.” He knows from experience that once he smokes that

first cigarette he will crave a second and will be unable to stop himself. However, he believes the

thought, “I’ll have just one,” and lights up. Of course, he ends up smoking a pack and lies awake

coughing at night only to repeat the whole exercise the next day. His Bechirah point was the moment he

chose to listen to the voice that said, “I’ll have just one.”

This may be a familiar situation for many. We are in a Bechirah point when we sense a struggle between

what we know is the right thing to do and what we feel we want to do. Ideally our feelings align with

1 This essay is based on Rabbi Dessler’s idea of The Bechirah Point, See Discourse on Free Will, Miktav M’Eliyahu,

Vol. 1 2 Maimonides, Laws of Teshuvah, 5:2

3 In the words of Maimonides, “There is no one who compels him, sentences him, or leads him towards either of

these two paths. Rather, he, on his own initiative and decision, tends to the path he chooses.” (Laws of Teshuvah 5:2, Rabbi Eliyahu Touger translation)

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whatever is right, but until we reach a high level of spiritual growth, feelings are better taken as

information and not as guides for action.4

A mundane example from my own life is my constant battle with late-night snacking. I know that if I

open the bag of chips as I work at my computer after 10:00PM I will most likely finish the bag (and this is

a big bag!). I know it will be better for me to have a cup of tea or eat some soup if I am hungry. But I

want chips! That is one moment of Bechirah/choice. Another comes earlier in the night. I know that if I

stay up working past 10:00PM I will most likely eat unhealthy food. I have a Bechirah point between

shutting off the computer and staying up late. I know which will be better but really want to write one

more email, or see one more Torah commentary.

Rabbi Dessler’s innovation is that we only have real free will at one point and anything beyond or before

that point is outside the realm of our free-will. In my case, once I open that bag of chips and it is past

1:00PM I lack free-will to stop eating. My mind and body are so conditioned to devour the whole bag

that I am really on auto-pilot at this point. With greater awareness of what is happening within and

around us—through mindfulness practice—we might have the capacity to acknowledge our emotions

and choose a wiser option than eating. But this is just the point: when we are not aware, when we in the

zone of conditioned or habitual behavior, we are robots. According to Rabbi Dessler, most of our life is

lived in the zone of habit. In this way he is aligned with the most contemporary brain research.

We can be habituated for good or for bad. Many young people at the high school where I work are

habituated to say thank you to their teachers. They are not really making a free-will choice to thank the

teacher each time. For them, the Bechirah point is not only to say thank you but to acknowledge one

thing they thought the teacher did well that day. This would take thought and push them beyond the

habitual “thank you” into appreciating the teacher in a deeper and more meaningful way. We can also

be habituated to negative behaviors and thoughts. A child raised in the Mafia will not think twice about

stealing gum from a candy store. However, his Bechirah point might be whether he will shoot his way

out of a police net if he is caught. He is aware that murder is wrong and this awareness creates a

Bechirah point in his life.

The Bechirah point is the place or moment where our habits of mind and heart or irrational cravings for

everything from food to sex meet our awareness of the right thing to do. It is a moment when we “wake

up” to what is happening, and become aware of our behavioral options.

Stop for a minute and think of examples of one or two Bechirah points from your own life.

4 Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato writes in The Path of the Upright that a goal of spiritual development is to get to

the point that we feel drawn to goodness and holiness like a piece of iron is drawn to a magnet.

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The Bechirah point is fluid. The more we choose in the direction of what we know to be right, the easier

it gets to make similar choices. We thus create new good habits and move more of our behavior within

the realm of positive habituation. Our Bechirah point is pushed further in the direction of refined

behavior. According to Rav Dessler, this movement is spiritual growth.

In considering our example, above, we can notice that choosing not to smoke that first cigarette will be

a difficult Bechirah. But after making this Bechirah for many months, the next Bechirah point may be

about exercise or diet. By this point, former smoker will be treating himself as the Divine soul he truly is.

As we make more positive choices we reveal more and more of our divine soul5. By making these

positive choices at our Bechirah points we actually grow and become more spiritually actualized beings.

In other words, we become more holy.

The opposite is also true. When we make choices in the direction of habit and urges we become more

and more numb to what we know is the right thing to do in that particular situation. More of our

behavior comes under the dominion of negative habits. In my own example, the more I stay up late and

eat chips, the easier it becomes the next time to do the same thing. I don’t even have a struggle going

on. I automatically crack open the bag without even thinking. Many of us probably have experienced

this type of negative habituation around food.

The Rabbis of the Mishnah captured this dynamic when they said, “A mitzvah leads to another mitzvah

and a wrongdoing leads to another wrongdoing” and “The second time a person does a wrongdoing, it is

no longer a wrongdoing in his mind anymore.”

The Bechirah point perspective gives us a concrete practice for spiritual growth. We can influence the

relative power of our yetzer hara and our yetzer tov through our choices. The more we choose in the

direction of urges, the more we strengthen the yetzer hara and the more we weaken the yetzer tov’s

hold. The more we choose in the direction of good, clear, balanced thinking, the more we strengthen

our yetzer tov 6. By tracking our Bechirah points—those points where we have awareness of a tension

between the force of habit and what we know is right—we can chart our growing edge. The Bechirah

points are those places where we can pursue our soul curriculum. No matter how we’ve been educated

and habituated, we always have the choice to be mindful of our Bechirah points.

5 I first heard this idea from Rabbi David Lapin at the Mussar Institute Kallah, October 2010

6 Paraphrased from Aley Shur II, p. 40, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe

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Questions for Consideration:

What is your opinion about free will? Is it closer to that of Maimonides or Rabbi Dessler?

When is a time you felt like you grew higher or lower spiritually because of choices you made?

What might it be that gets people to believe things that they objectively know are not true, like

the smoker in the example above?

What are one or two Bechirah points you experienced recently?

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LEARN THE SOURCES

THE BECHIRAH POINT: RABBI ELIYAHU DESSLER (D. 1953)

Free will is a cornerstone of traditional Jewish belief. A defining aspect of humanity is that we choose

how to behave, think and live and that the course of our lives is not predestined by God. The classic

Jewish position on free will is represented by Maimonides in his Laws of Repentance, chapter 5 where

he writes that anyone can be as righteous as Moses or as wicked as the most morally depraved

characters in the Tanakh/Bible. The choice is ours and our choice is never limited.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (d. 1953), one of the great Mussar teachers of the 20th century, sharpens this

concept of free will in a way that accounts for nature and nurture. He writes that all humans have free

will only at something called a Bechirah/choice point. To explain this idea he offers an example of a

smoker. The smoker coughs heavily at night and cannot sleep. He promises himself that he will not

smoke again the next day. The next morning he thinks, “I’ll have just one.” He knows from experience

that once he smokes that first cigarette he craves a second and cannot stop. However, he believes the

thought, “I’ll have just one,” and lights up. Of course, he ends up smoking a pack and lies awake

coughing that night only to repeat the whole exercise the next day. The Bechirah point was the moment

he chose to listen to the voice that said, “I’ll have just one.” According to Rabbi Dessler, the truth is that

he can never stop at one. He has a choice between truth and falsehood. Rabbi Dessler analogizes this

moment to the front on a battlefield where two armies stand in opposition. One army is on territory

that represents truth and the other on territory representing falsehood. According to Rabbi Dessler:

Everyone has free choice –at the point where truth meets falsehood. In other words Bechirah

takes place at that point where the truth as the person sees it confronts the illusion produced in

him by the power of falsehood7. But the majority of a person’s actions are undertaken without

any clash between truth and falsehood taking place. Many of a person’ actions may happen to

coincide with what is objectively right because he has been brought up that way and it does not

occur to him to do otherwise, and many bad and false decisions may be taken simply because

the person does not realize that they are bad. In such cases no valid Bechirah, or choice, has

been made…

Questions for Consideration:

How would you define the “Falsehood” Rav Dessler is talking about in your own words?

What might be a “false decision?”

7 “Falsehood” is an illusion produced by a combination of irrational wants and desires and habituation.

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Can you think of an example from your own life of this type of “objectively right” or “false”

decision?

Why might these type of choices not be “valid” Bechirah?

Rabbi Dessler is saying something fairly radical. Not all our actions are actually free will decisions. Much

of what we do is determined by the values instilled in us by our families, schools and cultures:

For example, one may have been brought up in an environment of Torah, among people who

devote themselves to good deeds. In this case his Bechirah point will not be whether or not to

commit an actual sin but whether to do a mitzvah with more or less devotion and

kavanah/intention. Another may be brought up among evildoers of the lowest grade, among

thieves and robbers. For him, whether or not to steal does not present any Bechirah at all. His

Bechirah point might be on the question of shooting his way out when discovered… this is where

for him the forces of… truth and untruth, are evenly balanced.

We grow spiritually through our Bechirah/choices:

It must be realized that this Bechirah point does not remain static in any given individual. With

each good Bechirah successfully carried out, the person rises higher in spiritual level: that is,

things that were previously in the line of battle are now in the area controlled by the yetzer tov

(good, clear thinking)... giving in to the yetzer hara (impulse for immediate gratification) pushes

back the frontier of the good, and an act which previously cost one a struggle with one’s

conscience will now be done without Bechirah at all.

Questions for Consideration:

What experience do you have with this phenomena of good choices becoming easier the more

you make these choices and vice versa?

What is your opinion about free will? Is it closer to that of Maimonides or Rabbi Dessler?

What might it be that gets people to believe things that they objectively know are not true, like

the smoker in the example above?

When is a time you felt like you grew higher or lower spiritually because of choices you made?

What are one or two Bechirah points you experienced recently?

What do you think of Rav Dessler’s claim that we rise or fall in our spiritual level through our

Behira points?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

BECHIRAH – FREE WILL

The following sources from the Torah, Talmud, Maimonides (d. 1204, Egypt) and Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler

(d. 1953, Israel) explore different aspects of free will. These selections can be studied on their own or as

a unit.

SOURCE 1: BABYLONIAN TALMUD SHABBAT 156A

האי מאן דבמאדים יהי גבר אשיד דמא אמר רבי אשי אי אומנא אי גנבא אי טבחא אי מוהלא

One who is born under Mars will be a blood shedder. Rabbi Ashi said [he may be] a surgeon, a thief, a

butcher or a Mohel.

Questions for Consideration:

The rabbis seem to consider our basic temperament to be set at birth by, among other things,

the astrological signs under which we are born. What do you think of this idea that our basic

characteristics, such as being “hot blooded” or “calm” is not a matter of choice, but is something

we are born with that does not change?

Rabbi Ashi explains that, despite being stuck with our basic characteristics we can choose how

to use them. Do you find this to be an expansive or a limiting sense of free will?

How would you define your own temperament and what are the choices you have made to

channel that temperament in positive or negative directions?

If temperament is a given, what is the role of middot?

SOURCE 2: MISHNAH AVOT 4:2

צוה צוה, ועברה גוררת עברהמ גוררת מ

Ben Azzai says … a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah and a wrongdoing leads to another wrongdoing

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SOURCE 3: BABYLONIAN TALMUD YOMA 86B

אמר רב הונא כיון שעבר אדם עבירה ושנה בה הותרה לו

When a person transgresses the same thing twice, that person considers it as if it is no longer a

transgression.

Questions for Consideration:

What psychological and spiritual dynamics at play in each of these rabbinic observations about

human behavior?

What personal experience do you have with either a mitzvah leading to another mitzvah or

rationalizing wrongdoing once you’ve done the same thing more than once?

What impact do these psycho-spiritual “truths” have on free will?

SOURCE 4: MAIMONIDES, LAWS OF TESHUVAH, CHAPTER 58

1. Free will is granted to all people. If one desires to turn himself to the path of good and be

righteous, the choice is his. Should he desire to turn to the path of evil and be wicked, the choice

is his…

2. A person should not entertain the thesis held by the fools among the gentiles and the majority

of the undeveloped among Israel that, at the time of a man’s creation, God decrees whether he

will be righteous or wicked.

This is untrue. Each person is fit to be righteous like Moses, our teacher, or wicked, like Jeroboam.

[Similarly,] he may be wise or foolish, merciful or cruel, miserly or generous, or [acquire] any other

character traits. There is no one who compels him, sentences him, or leads him towards either of these

two paths. Rather, he, on his own initiative and decision, tends to the path he chooses.

Questions for Consideration:

What do you think of Maimonides’ assertion that there is no compulsion to be either “merciful

or cruel, etc.”?

Why do you think many people believed God decrees if people are righteous or wicked? What

would be the equivalent belief today?

Do you think there are any limits on human free will and choice?

8 Rabbi Eliyahu Touger translation

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SOURCE 5: DEUTERONOMY 30: 19–20

I call on heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing

and curse. Choose life—so you and your offspring may live—by loving the Holy One your God, heeding

God’s commands, and holding fast to God. Thus you shall have life and long endure upon the soil that

the Holy One swore to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.

Questions for Consideration:

What do you think of the prescription that “choosing life” means “loving the Lord your God,

etc.”?

Why would anyone choose death and curse?

Imagine using “Choose life” as your criteria for decision making when faced with a tough choice.

Would that help?

SOURCE 6: RABBI ELIYAHU DESSLER ON “CHOOSE LIFE,” STRIVE FOR TRUTH VOL. 2, PP. 56–79

I have put before you life and death, the blessing and the curse:

choose life, so that you may live.

– Deuteronomy (30:19-20)

Life and death: comprise all that a person is “given”—all the facets of a person’s character, his inborn

traits and tendencies, his upbringing and environment; all those factors which determine what he calls,

“life,” what presents itself to him as “good” and “true”; and equally what he calls “death,” “evil” and

“falsehood.” All these things “I have put before you,” literally: I have given before you; these are the

“given” of the human situation; they exist independently of any action on our part, like all the other

features of our environment.

But – “you shall choose life.” “Choosing life,” choosing truth and reality, is something which only the

human being himself can do, and which he does without being affected by any outside factor

whatsoever.

Questions for Consideration:

According to R. Dessler, in your own words, what are the “givens” of the human condition and

over what do we have choice?

How do you think the “givens” impact the choices we have, if at all?

What would it mean for you to commit to choosing “reality” on a regular basis? 9 Strive for Truth is the English translation of the first part of Rabbi Dessler’s major work, Miktav M’Eliyahu. The

translation is by Rabbi Aryeh Carmell

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BECHIRAH POINT PRACTICES

1. TORAH LEARNING: Options for further text study include any of the materials in this curricular not

already learned in the va’ad meeting. One may also want to read Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler’s thoughts on

the Bechirah point in Strive for Truth (text can be found on the TMP wiki page).

2. CHESHBON HANEFESH

Journaling:10 Record any Bechirah/choice points you notice during the day. Try to flesh out the issues

that pulled at you in this Bechirah/choice point. Note any patterns in the type of incidents that create

Bechirah/choice points for you. What are these Bechirah/choice points teaching you?

The first stage of Mussar practice is building awareness and greater sensitivity to our inner

worlds and the world around us. Regular journaling is a time-tested method for building this

sensitivity. The practice is called Cheshbon Hanefesh journaling because Cheshbon Hanefesh,

literally “Soul Accounting,” means keeping track of your soul growth. The yetzer hara makes us

forget those small, but significant moments of growth that happen all the time.

Journaling sessions can be as short as one or two minutes and as long as you want. The key is

finding a regular time for the journaling that fits into your life. For example, some people journal

when turning the computer on. Others keep a journal on their night table and write before

going to sleep. Connect the journaling to an activity that you know you do everyday. If you are

really having a hard time, just try writing the words “Bechirah Point” at the top of the page each

day11. This will get you in the practice of opening the journal and putting the pen to the page.

Rebbe Nachman’s Hitbodedut: Hitbodedut literally means solitude or isolation. It can also refer to

meditation. Hitbodedut, or time to oneself, is an essential part of any spiritual practice. Rebbe

Nachman’s Hitbodedut is a particular practice of speaking out one’s thoughts to God in a spontaneous

way in one’s native language. Rebbe Nachman advised his followers to practice Hitbodedut daily as a

form of Cheshbon Hanefesh. Hitbodedut can be done for any amount of time. It is important to find a

place and time for the Hitbodedut in which you will not be interrupted and can be guaranteed privacy.

Rebbe Nachman extolled the virtues of doing Hitbodedut in nature, but any private place works.

Hitbodedut is a powerful practice for developing one’s relationship with God. It can also be an

alternative Cheshbon Hanefesh practice for those who find journaling very difficult. Use the same

directions as above for journaling, just in Hitbodedut practice you will speak your thoughts instead of

writing.

10

Cheshbon Hanefesh journaling as a practice was developed by Dr. Alan Morinis. See his Climbing Jacob’s Ladder (Broadway Books, 2002 pgs. 107 -112). The original practice of recording one’s progress with a middah in chart form was developed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin, Cheshbon Hanefesh (1810) 11

This method was developed by Boston-based Mussar Facilitator, Lisa Goodman.

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3. SICHAT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA: Set up a 20-30 minute period of time to talk with your partner as

least once between meetings. During this meeting you will split the time evenly. Choose one person to

talk first. During the first person’s time the listener’s job is to give full attention to the speaker and ask

questions that will help the speaker understand his or her situation better. Do not give any advice or try

to solve a problem.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON BECHIRAH POINTS

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

When I have brought mindfulness with a perspective of hitlamdut into the full experience of this

moment often an opening occurs. No longer am I reflexively reacting to a situation as I have done a

million times. I am approaching it anew with fresh eyes and a sense of new possibilities. There is more

freedom. Choices present themselves to me. I see that I can respond in one way or another and I

understand or intuit which choices are in alignment with my intentions, which are wholesome, which

lead to the alleviation of suffering and which lead in the opposite direction. These choices are the

bechirot, the choices and this is the crossroads, the bechirah point, where I can act freely, intentionally

and in relationship with self, other and the Divine.

Both in mindfulness and middot work there is a profound goal to increase human freedom. We train for

this liberation so that we can fulfill our human purpose as reflections of the Divine. We cultivate

freedom of mind and heart so that we can manifest what is already present with us – our soul traits, our

generosity, love and compassion, our joy and creativity. This is the crossing of the Red Sea and the slow

walk toward the Promised Land, which occurs many times in our day and in our lives. We support each

other in this holy project as we walk along. We cannot force ourselves to be good! It just doesn’t work.

Only through the steady practice again and again of seeing what is true, without agenda or

condemnation, but with compassion and patience, do we allow the Sea to part, revealing where we

have freedom to choose and the knowledge and strength to choose wisely.

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ANAVAH/HUMILITY

KEY IDEAS:

A Jewish understanding of Anavah means discerning and taking the appropriate amount of

space1

Anavah involves being ready to serve the needs and wants of others without neglecting one’s

own.

Anavah is healthy self-esteem located midway between self-abasement and arrogance

PRACTICES:

Learning

Focus Phrase

Kabbalot

Cheshbon Hanefesh

Sichat Chaverim/Chevruta

1 This idea was first developed by Dr. Alan Morinis. See Everyday Holiness (Trumpeter Books, 2007), chapter 7

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 10–15 minutes

Va’ad 35–40 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: Anavah/Humility 35–40 minutes

Practice: Learning, Focus Phrase, Kabbalot, 15 minutes Cheshbon Hanefesh and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

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1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (10-15 MINUTES)

Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being. The activity shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention to the

present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention before switching.

Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

listener can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

2. VA’AD (35-40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the va’ad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

the middah and practices of the past period of time.

REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

want to say during their time in the va’ad. Remind them that the main practice of the last month was

Cheshbon Hanefesh (either journaling or hitbodedut) about Bechirah points.

SHARING (3 minutes per person – total time depends on group size.): Try to keep the va’ad sharing to

no more than 30 minutes. If the group consists of more than eight, you may want to break up into

groups of three or four to save time.

Note: The time boundary is important during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell that will alert

the speaker that time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence, but if they go on

considerably longer the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up. Maintaining the

time boundary is essential to ensuring the safety of the group.

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Cross-talk is not permitted during the sharing portion of the va’ad. It is ok to say “thank you” or

something equally benign after someone speaks, although warm and accepting body language is

just as good. If a member starts to give advice or comment it is very important to interrupt and

remind the group to avoid cross talk during the va’ad so as to maintain safety. You can refer to

the guidelines.

SILENCE (1 minute): It is important to provide this quiet time to honor and process what was just

shared, before entering a discussion.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This is for open discussion and sharing of observations about the middah.

Ask people to share insights or questions they have about Bechirah Points or the Cheshbon Hanefesh

practice. If you separated the group into small groups, bring everyone together for the discussion.

Note: It is not the time for advice giving or seeking. If someone does give advice, direct them

back to sharing about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

for advice, redirect the question to be about the issue in general and not his or her specific case.

3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

4. LEARNING: ANAVAH/HUMILITY (35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

INTRODUCTION TO ANAVAH (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Anavah based on your own

study of the middah. Introduce the text, e.g. provide context if it is a Torah story or a piece from the

Talmud. This curriculum provides three options for study during the va’ad meeting.

1. Introductory Essay: A short essay about the middah, including personal stories and the author’s

interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written in a conversational tone

and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in classic Beit Midrash style

text study. The essay is also useful to get a quick overview of the middah or topic as background

for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet which includes a brief introduction to the text, the

primary sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary

sources in Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: These are short primary sources with study questions that can serve as

extensions during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study

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outside of the va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very

limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

though they used different source sheets.

CHEVRUTA (10-15 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, dyad work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the readings.

5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALOT, CHESHBON HANEFESH, AND

SICHOT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

The focus phrase is the last of the core Tikkun Middot practices we will employ in this curriculum2.

Focus phrases ideally come from verses or passages from classic Jewish texts that one studies about the

middah. They can also be original phrases created by the practitioner. A good focus phrase will direct

one’s mind toward the middah and implant awareness of the middah in one’s consciousness at the

beginning of the day. Focus phrases should be short and easy to remember. Some people like to chant

the focus phrase, although this is not necessary.3

Write the focus phrase in the journal at the top of the entry for that day. In addition, many people have

success with writing the focus phrase on an index card and taping it to their desktop, computer, car

dashboard or any place it will be seen easily during the time of practice. Repeat the focus phrase for at

least one minute each morning during the period of practice.

2 I was introduced to this practice by Dr. Shirah Bell of The Mussar Institute

3 This chanting is related to another classic Mussar practice, Hitpa’alut, or Hispailus, which we will not be doing in

this introductory curriculum. For more on Hispailus see Rabbi Elyakim Krumbein, Mussar for Moderns (Ktav, 2005),

chapters 11, 12; Dr. Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness, p. 32; Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, Aley Shur II, p. 165 and Rabbi

Israel Salanter, Ohr Yisrael, Letter 30, translated by Rabbi Zvi Miller.

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REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): Give an example of your own experience with focus phrases.

Solicit questions about the practice and experience from others with the practice as a form of mutual

support among the group. Review the practice sheet carefully with the group.

DECIDE ON A FOCUS PHRASE AND/OR KABBALAH (5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation,

each member decides on a focus phrase and/or a personal kabbalah. This could be something suggested

in the practice sheet or something made up by the participant.

CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each person shares the focus phrase and/or kabbalah that he/she will try

out this month.

Note: Have chevruta pairs set a time to meet before the next group session. They should set this

time before they leave this session.

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ANAVAH/HUMILITY

What image comes to mind when you think of a humble person? I imagine an unassuming, quiet person

who holds himself back and doesn’t take up a lot of space. A humble person could never be a leader of a

company, organization or movement. In the English language humility is synonymous with the word

meek. However, a Jewish understanding of humility is more complex.

The Torah calls Moses the “most humble person on the earth.” Immediately, we understand that

humility does not imply taking a back seat and letting others lead. After all, Moses confronted Pharoah,

led the Israelites out of slavery, and challenged both God and the people at moments of crisis in the

desert. A Jewish definition of humility is something akin to healthy self-esteem. All middot exist along a

continuum. For example, apathy and uncontrollable rage are the extremes of a continuum where

patience and appropriate anger sit in the middle. True humility occupies a middle space between self-

deprecation on the one hand, and arrogance on the other.

Before I learned this Jewish perspective, I had thought of myself as humble because I didn’t think so

much of myself. I remember being surprised when a good friend said she thought I was arrogant. How

could I be arrogant, I wondered, when I felt so unworthy and low? Indeed, it is just this lack of self-worth

that fuels arrogant behavior. During this same era of my life, I moved to Boston to work for a non-profit

organization. Someone held the department director level job I wanted at this organization, so I took a

more junior position. I felt bad about being in, what seemed to me as, a position beneath my level of

education and experience. On one of my first days on this job I asked this department director how long

she thought she would be staying in her current position, because I thought her job was perfect for me.

Only later did she tell me how arrogant she considered my question. This question was clearly fueled by

how negative I felt about where I was in my career path.

In this situation, true humility would have meant knowing that I had the ability to shine in whatever job I

held. Practicing Anavah would mean I would trust myself and God that I had something meaningful to

offer exactly where I was at that moment in my career, and that ultimately I would get to where I

needed. The following two examples of humility in Jewish sources illustrate the point:

In the Talmud, Rav Huna says “Anyone who makes a set place (makom) for his prayer, the God of

Abraham helps him. When he dies it is said about him that he was an anav (humble person), a Hasid (a

pious person) and one of the students of Abraham our ancestor” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 6b).

What is the relationship between making a set place for prayer and Anavah? Dr. Alan Morinis writes that

the main issue regards space4. When we say that this seat is mine, we are also saying that that other

4 Everyday Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis, Chapter 7

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seat is not mine. By making a set place we are also giving space to others. According to Morinis, this is

the key to Anavah. The anav knows how much space to take up in any situation.

When our Anavah is out of balance, we take either too little or too much space. Think about yourself in

different situations. Do you tend to speak first in meetings or groups? Do you speak several times before

others speak at all? You may be taking too much space. Or do you tend to hang back and not talk at all

or says one thing just before the discussion ends? You may be taking too little space.

In practicing Anavah, our goals are:

1. to be mindful of our tendencies to expand or shrink in such situations,

2. to cultivate awareness in every moment of how much or how little space we are taking, and

3. to inhabit an amount of space which is appropriate to each situation.

Questions for Consideration:

What is your relationship to “taking space?”

In what ways does the space you take depend on the situation?

A different perspective on Anavah involves our ability to show up as needed in any particular situation.

When God calls to Abraham at the beginning of the Binding of Isaac story (Genesis 22), and when the

angel calls to Moses from the burning bush, both respond, “Hineini/Here I am.” An ancient commentary

to the Torah says that “Hineini” implies Anavah and readiness to take action. What is humble about

saying “Hineini/Here I am?”

When I can declare “Here I am”—when my mind and body is fully present in a particular place and

moment—I set aside what I might have thought was important, in favor of something else that is calling

me from a deeper place. Abraham and Moses heard God calling. What is the equivalent call for us? As

dedicated as I am to spiritual life, I’ve never heard a non-embodied voice call to me. For me, the

equivalent of the Biblical call is deep intuition. For many of us it is hard to tell the difference between

intuition and the general noise in our heads. But when we can discern our true inner voices, the

challenges becomes putting our other priorities aside and declaring, “Hineini/Here I am.” To do so takes

conviction and deep trust in ourselves and our spiritual lives. This inner-confidence is also a

representation of Anavah.

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Questions for Consideration:

What is a Hineini/here I am moment you can remember? You can also choose a moment that

you did not say “Hineini.”

How was this moment connected to Anavah/humility?

Anavah means taking the appropriate space and stepping up when called. These are not activities for

the meek. To live with Anavah takes self-knowledge and clear thinking about the situation at hand.

Anavah is the middah most closely associated with living in alignment with one’s true soul.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief Ashkenazi rabbi of the Jewish community in 20th century

Palestine, wrote that “Anavah…is the perfect vessel for receiving blessing.” When we live with Anavah

we receive the blessing of experiencing our own souls and bringing the blessing of our true selves to all

who know us.

Questions for Consideration:

Who is a role of model of Anavah for you?

What is one thing you can do to live with more Anavah?

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LEARN THE SOURCES

ANAVAH/HUMILITY

What image comes to mind when you think of a humble person? Perhaps an unassuming, quiet person

who holds himself back and doesn’t take up a lot of space. In the English language humility is

synonymous with meekness. A humble person could never be a leader of a company, organization or

movement. However, a Jewish understanding of humility is more complex. We start our exploration of

this middah with the one and only instance of the word Anavah in the Five Books of Moses – a

description of Moses as the most humble person on the earth:

Numbers 12: 1-3

ר א דב ים ות אהרן מר ה ו מש אדות-על בר הכשית האשה כשית אשה-כי לקח אש

.לקח

1 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because

of the Cushite woman he had married, for he had

married a Cushite woman.

רו ב ה-אך הרק ויאמ מש ר ב הוה דב הלא יר בנו גם מע דב הוה ויש .י

2 They said: 'Has the Holy One spoken only with

Moses? Has God not spoken also with us?' And

the Holy One heard it.

האיש ג ה ו אד ענו מש ר האדם מכל מ על אשני .האדמה פ

3 Now the man Moses was very humble, more so

than any man on the face of the earth.

Rashi on Numbers 12:3

Humble – Low and a Savlan וסבלן שפל - ענו

A Savlan is someone who can bear a burden. How does Moses express his Anavah?

Ramban on Numbers 12:3

השם כי להגיד מאד ענו משה והאיש וטעם יענה לא הוא כי, ענותנותו בעבור לו קנא

ידע אם אף לעולם ריב על

מבקש היה לא הוא כי ואמר מפרש א"ור

NOW THE MAN MOSHE WAS VERY HUMBLE – This [is

stated] to tell us that God was zealous for Moshe’s

sake on account of his [great] humility, since he would

never answer the injustice [meted out to him] even if

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במעלתו יתגאה ולא, אדם שום על גדולה חוטאים והם, אחיו על כי אף כלל

חנם עליו שמדברים

אף אומר נתן רבי( ק בהעלתך) בספרי אבל' ה וישמע שנאמר בו דברו משה של בפניו

משה שכבש אלא, מאד עניו משה והאיש, ענם ולא שסבל ענותנותו יזכיר הדבר על

לו קנא והשם

he knew about it…

In the midrash (Sifrei) it says, “Rabbi Nathan says: They

spoke against Moshe even in his presence, as it is said,

‘And the Holy One heard it. Now the man Moshe was

very humble,’ and he restrained himself about the

matter” [According to the midrash, therefore,

Scripture] mentions Moshe’s humility in that he

endured [their insult] and did not answer them back,

and that God was [therefore] zealous for his sake.

The fact that the Torah calls Moses the “most humble man on earth” tips us off that humility need not

imply taking a back seat and letting others lead. Moses confronted Pharoah, led the Israelites out of

slavery, and challenged God and the people at moments of crisis during their sojourn in the desert. A

Jewish definition of humility is something akin to healthy self-esteem. All middot exist along a

continuum. For example, apathy and uncontrollable rage sit on a continuum where patience and

appropriate anger are found in the middle. True humility occupies a middle space between self-

deprecation and arrogance. In the case of Moses, the commentators relate Anavah to the way Moses

responds or does not respond.

Questions for Consideration:

How does Moses’ response reflect Anavah?

What do think the connection is between Anavah and forbearance (savlanut – see Rashi)?

How have you responded with Anavah or not to something recently?

TWO ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES OF HUMILITY IN JEWISH SOURCES:

Babylonian Talmud Berachot 6b

כל הונא רב אמר חלבו רבי אמר אלהי לתפלתו מקום הקובע

לו אומרים וכשמת בעזרו אברהם של מתלמידיו חסיד אי עניו אי

אבינו אברהם

דקבע לן מנא אבינו ואברהם מקום

אל בבקר אברהם וישכם דכתיב

Rabbi Helbo said according to Rav Huna: Anyone who makes a

set place (Makom) for his prayer, the God of Abraham helps

him. When he dies it is said about him that he was an Anav

(humble person), a Hasid (a pious person) and one of the

students of Abraham our ancestor.

From where do we know that Abraham our ancestor had a set

place for his prayers?

It is written (Genesis 19: 27): “The next morning, Abraham

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שם עמד אשר המקום

שנאמר תפלה אלא עמידה ואין ויפלל פינחס ויעמוד

hurried to the place (Makom) where he had stood (Amad)

before the Holy One.”

”Standing” implies prayer, as it says (Psalms 106:30): “Pinchas

stepped forth and intervened…”

What is the relationship between making a set place for prayer and Anavah? Dr. Alan Morinis writes that

the main issue is about space5. When we say that this seat is mine, we are also saying that that other

seat is not mine. By making a set place we are also giving space to others. According to Morinis, this is

the key to Anavah. The anav knows how much space to take up in any situation. When our Anavah is

out of balance we take either too little or too much space. Think about yourself in different situations.

Are you always the first one to talk in meetings or groups? Do you speak several times before others

speak at all? If so, you may be taking too much space. Or are you the kind of person who hangs back and

either doesn’t talk at all or says one thing just before the program leader closes the discussion? You may

be taking up too little space. Our goal is to take the right amount of space in each situation.

Questions for Consideration:

In general, do you think you generally assume too much or too little space?

Are there situations in which your sense of self tends to expand or contract?

How would your life be different if you claimed more or less space?

How could you create more space for yourself, others, God, etc?

A different perspective on Anavah involves our ability to show up as needed in any particular situation.

When God calls to Abraham at the beginning of the Binding of Isaac story (Gen. 22) or when the angel

calls to Moses from the burning bush, both men respond, “Hineini/Here I am.” An ancient commentary

to the Torah says that this term “Hineini” implies Anavah and readiness to take action.

Genesis 22: 1-2

הי א ברים אחר וי ה הד ל האלהים הא ת נסה ו ארהם ר אב ליו ויאמ רהם א ר אב .הנני ויאמ

1 After these things, that God tested Abraham

and said to him: ‘Abraham’; and he said: ‘Here

am I.’

5 Everyday Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis, Chapter 7

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ר ב ת נא-קח ויאמ ך -א ת בנ ך -א חיד ר י אשת ת, אהב חק-א ך יצ ל ך -ו ל ל ץ-א ר המריה א

הו העל עלה שם ו הרי אחד על ל ר, ה אמר אשיך ל . א

2 And God said: ‘Take your son, your only son,

whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of

Moriah; offer him there for a burnt-offering

upon one of the mountains which I will tell you.’

Rashi on Genesis 22: 1

לשון חסידים של ענייתם היא כך – הנני :זימון ולשון הוא ענוה

Here I am/Hineini – This is the response of the pious.

This (Hineini) implies Anavah/humility and alacrity.

What is humble about saying “Hineini/Here I am?” “Here I am” implies being fully present. When I am

fully present I set aside what I might have thought was important for something else that is calling me

from a deeper place. Abraham and Moses heard God calling. What is the equivalent for us? As dedicated

as I am to spiritual life, I’ve never heard a non-embodied voice call to me. I think the equivalent, for me,

is deep intuition. For many of us it is hard to tell the difference between intuition and general noise that

goes on in our heads. But when we can make out our true inner voice, are we ready to put our other

priorities aside and say, “Hineini/Here I am.” To do so takes conviction and deep trust in ourselves and

our spiritual life. This inner-confidence is also Anavah.

Questions for Consideration:

What is a Hineini/Here I am moment you can remember? You can also choose a moment that

you didn’t say “Hineini.”

How was this moment connected to Anavah?

Who is a role of model of Anavah for you?

What is one thing you can do to live with more Anavah?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

ANAVAH – HUMILITY

The following Talmudic, Medieval and Modern sources present different aspects of Anavah:

SOURCE 1: BABYLONIAN TALMUD GITTIN 55B-56A

עבד קמצא בר דבביה ובעל קמצא דרחמיה גברא דההוא ירושלים חרוב קמצא ובר אקמצא דהוה אשכחיה אתא קמצא בר ליה אייתי אזל קמצא לי אייתי זיל לשמעיה ליה אמר סעודתא

אמר פוק קום הכא בעית מאי הוא גברא דההוא דבבא בעל גברא ההוא מכדי ליה אמר יתיב לא ליה אמר דסעודתיך פלגא דמי לך יהיבנא ליה אמר לא ליה אמר שבקן ואתאי הואיל ליה

אמר ואפקיה ואוקמיה בידיה נקטיה לא ליה אמר סעודתיך כולה דמי לך יהיבנא ליה אמר מלכא בי קורצא בהו איכול איזיל להו ניחא קא מינה שמע ביה מחו ולא רבנן יתבי והוו הואיל

אי חזית קורבנא להו שדר ליה אמר יימר מי ליה אמר יהודאי בך מרדו לקיסר ליה אמר אזל לה ואמרי שפתים בניב מומא ביה שדא דקאתי בהדי תלתא עגלא בידיה שדר אזל ליה מקרבין משום לקרוביה רבנן סבור הוא מומא לאו ולדידהו מומא הוה דלדידן דוכתא שבעין בדוקין

סבור מזבח לגבי קריבין מומין בעלי יאמרו אבקולס בן זכריה רבי להו אמר מלכות שלום רבי אמר יהרג בקדשים מום מטיל יאמרו זכריה רבי להו אמר ולימא ליזיל דלא למיקטליה

והגליתנו היכלנו את ושרפה ביתנו את החריבה אבקולס בן זכריה רבי של ענוותנותו יוחנן מארצנו

A man named Bar Kamtza sought revenge on the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem who had offended him. He

went to the Roman governors to inform them that the Jews were rebelling. To prove his point, he told

the Romans to send a sacrifice to the Temple. Normally such a sacrifice would be offered up, but Bar

Kamtza caused a minor blemish on the animal that was unnoticeable to the Romans, but that he knew

the Temple priests would see. Because a sacrifice must be blemishless, Bar Kamtza knew that the priests

would be bound to refuse to accept the offering. This refusal would be the “proof” that the Jews were in

rebellion against Rome.

When the sacrifice came before the priests in the Temple, they immediately spotted the hidden blemish,

as Bar Kamtza knew they would. But what he may not have anticipated was that they immediately

understood what was going on. Someone suggested that they go ahead and offer the sacrifice anyway.

Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas, however, argued that if they did that, people would draw the incorrect

conclusion that it was permitted to offer blemished sacrifices.

It was then suggested that Bar Kamtza be killed to prevent him from telling the Romans and

endangering the Jewish people. Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas responded, saying, “If we do so, people will

incorrectly think that those who inflict blemishes on sacrifices are put to death.”

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As a result of the priest’s unwillingness to accept either course of action, Bar Kamtza succeeded in his

plan. The sacrifice was denied, and as Bar Kamtza had planned, the Romans took this to mean that the

Jews were in rebellion. The Romans attacked and ultimately destroyed the Temple. The Talmud

concludes, “The humility of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas caused the loss of our home, the burning of our

sanctuary, and our exile from the land.” (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 55b-56a, as paraphrased in Everyday

Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis pp. 48-49)

Questions for Consideration:

In what respects might Rabbi Zechariah be described as an anav?

The Talmud is quite critical of Rabbi Zechariah. What was wrong with his Anavah?

As a leader what experience have you had with similar Anavah challenges?

SOURCE 2: INTRODUCTION TO DUTIES OF THE HEART (HOVOT HALEVAVOT), RABBI BAHYA IBN

PEKUDA (11TH CENTURY, SPAIN)

When I planned to execute my decision to write this book, I saw that one like me is unworthy of writing

a book such as this. I surmised that my ability would not suffice to analyze all the necessary aspects,

owing to the difficulty which I perceived and to my wisdom being insufficient and my mind being too

weak to grasp all of the issues, and that I am not fluent in the Arabic language in which I wrote it. I

feared that I would toil at something that would evidence my inability, and that it would be a

presumptuous undertaking, so that I considered changing my mind and abandoning my previous

decision.

But when I designed to remove this laborious burden from myself and desist from composing the work, I

reconsidered and became suspicious of myself for having chosen to rest and to dwell in the abode of

laziness in peace and tranquility, and I feared that it was the desire of the [evil] passion which was

placing this thought [within me], … and I know that many minds have been lost out of apprehension,

and many losses have been caused by fear … if all those involved in good causes … were to remain silent

and still until they could completely attain their ideal, no man would ever says a word after the Prophets

… who were chosen by God…

Questions for Consideration:

How does R. Bahya model the types of Anavah we saw above in Moses and Abraham?

What experiences have you had with this type of decision?

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SOURCE 3: THE MORAL PRINCIPLES (MIDDOT HARAYAH), RABBI ABRAHAM ISAAC HAKOHEN

KOOK (D. 1936, PALESTINE)

ברכה כל לקבל טוב היותר הכלי היא ובזה, הרצון את משלימה הענוה

Anavah/Humility completes, or makes whole, ratzon/will. It is for this reason that [Anavah/humility] is

the best vessel for receiving all blessing.

Questions for Consideration:

What do you think it means for Anavah to complete or make “ratzon/will” whole?

How does this change if we are talking about human will or Divine will?

What do think the connection is between ratzon/will and blessing?

How does Anavah function as a vehicle for blessing in the Moshe and Avraham stories? In other

stories from the written and oral Torah?

How has Anavah functioned as a vehicle for blessing in your own life?

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ANAVAH/HUMILITY PRACTICES

1. TORAH LEARNING: Use any of the sources from the curriculum not used during the va’ad for further

individual and chevruta study.

For additional background reading you may refer to the following:

Everyday Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis Chapter 7

Mussar for Moderns, R. Elyakim Krumbein, chapters 4-5 at this link: vbm-torah.org/mussar.htm

2. FOCUS PHRASE: Write a phrase on an index card, put the index card somewhere you will see it and

repeat the phrase for a minute or two every morning. Sample phrases:

“No more than my space, no less than my place” (Dr. Alan Morinis)

“Hineini”

“Not too much, not too little”

3. KABBALAH: Choose one time each day to notice how much space you are taking. This can be at a

meeting, at home, in the classroom, etc. Are you taking too much space, too little space or just the right

amount. Try out different settings for the kabbalah to get a sense of how your Anavah/humility is

influenced by different circumstances.

Choose a meeting or time of day that you will take up more or less space than is comfortable to you.

This could mean that you will be the first to speak in a meeting, or that you will not speak until everyone

else has a turn. Your kabbalah could be being sillier and louder than usual with a group of people each

day.

Commit to saying “Hineini” and “stepping up” at least once each day.

4. CHESHBON HANEFESH OR HITBODEDUT: Record what you notice about the space you take.

What impacts the amount of space you take?

What affects your ability to say “Hineini”?

5. SICHAT CHAVERIM/CHEVRUTA: Have at least one 20-30 minute conversation about your

practice with your partner. This can include insights or questions from the reading. Split the

time so each person gets 10-15 minutes of attention from the other person.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE: BALANCING KAVOD AND ANAVAH

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

Take a comfortable seat.

We are going to explore balance in posture and breath

Let both legs be heavy and both arms be heavy.

As you are seated allow the right hip and leg to release to the earth.

Now allow the left hip to release to the earth.

Notice which side is heavier – right or left

There is no need to adjust anything. Just notice.

Now let your right arm and shoulder relax and release.

Do the same with your left arm and shoulder – allow it to relax and release.

Notice. Which side is heavier?

Now bring your attention to your torso, to the front of your body.

Notice if you are leaning into the front of your body.

Now bring your attention to your back, the rear of your body.

Notice if you are leaning into the back body.

Bring your attention to the lower body, pelvis and down, the part that is mutzav artza.

Se if you can become aware of this part of the body connected to the earth.

Now feel your head. Feel pulled up from the center of your scalp – hashamaima.

What is easier to feel – the lower body or the sensation of being pulled up?

Just notice. No need to judge or fix, Just notice.

Does it change as you notice?

Bring your attention to your breath.

Be aware of breathing in – breathing out.

Notice breath in your nostrils.

Is there more breath in the left nostril?

In the right nostril?

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Breathing in – breathing out.

Is the inhale longer?

Is the exhale longer?

Just notice.

Continue to observe balance in the breath or cycle through the various sides of the body – left/right;

front/back; top/bottom until the bell rings.

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SAVLANUT/FORBEARANCE, PATIENCE

KEY IDEA:

Savlanut is the quality of bearing discomfort to sustain connection to oneself, others and God.

PRACTICES:

Torah Learning

Focus Phrase

Kabbalot

Cheshbon Hanefesh and Sichat Chaverim Chevrutah

1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (10-15 MINUTES)

Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being.

DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention to the

present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention before switching.

Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 10–15 minutes

Va’ad 35–40 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: Savlanut/Patience 35–40 minutes

Practice: Learning, Focus Phrase, Kabbalot, 15 minutes Cheshbon Hanefesh and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

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Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention anyway she wants. She can talk about something

troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind. The

attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The listener

can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

2. VA’AD (35-40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the va’ad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

the middah and practices of the past period of time.

REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

want to say during their time in the va’ad. Remind them that the main practice of the last month was

Cheshbon Hanefesh (either journaling or Hitbodedut) about Bechirah points.

SHARING (3 minutes per person – total time depends on group size.): Try to keep the va’ad sharing to

no more than 30 minutes. If the group consists of more than eight, you may want to break up into

groups of three or four to save time.

Note: The time boundary is important during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell that will alert

the speaker that time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence, but if they go on

considerably longer the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up. Maintaining the

time boundary is essential to ensuring the safety of the group.

Cross-talk is not permitted during the sharing portion of the va’ad. It is ok to say “thank you” or

something equally benign after someone speaks, although warm and accepting body language is

just as good. If a member starts to give advice or comment it is very important to interrupt and

remind the group to avoid cross talk during the va’ad so as to maintain safety. You can refer to

the guidelines.

SILENCE (1 minute): It is important provide this quiet time to honor and process what was just shared,

before entering a discussion.

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DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This is for open discussion and sharing of observations about the middah.

Ask people to share insights or questions they have about Bechirah Points or the Cheshbon Hanefesh

practice. If you separated the group into small groups, bring everyone together for the discussion.

Note: It is not the time for advice giving or seeking. If someone does give advice, direct them

back to sharing about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

for advice, redirect the question to be about the issue in general and not his or her specific case.

3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

4. LEARNING: SAVLANUT/PATIENCE (35 – 40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

INTRODUCTION TO SAVLANUT (3 minutes)

Share a few thoughts about Savlanut based on your own study of the middah. Introduce the text, e.g.

offer context if it is a Torah story or a piece from the Talmud. This curriculum provides three options for

study during the va’ad meeting.

1. Introductory Essay: A short essay about the middah, including personal stories and the author’s

interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written in a conversational tone

and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in classic Beit Midrash style

text study. The essay is also useful to get a quick overview of the middah or topic as background

for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet which includes a brief introduction to the text, the

primary sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary

sources in Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: These are short primary sources with study questions that can serve as

extensions during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study

outside of the va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very

limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best for your group. You can give students a choice of the

essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok if some group members learn one and other group members learn

the other. These materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic

together even though they used different source sheets.

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CHEVRUTA (10-15 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, dyad work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the readings.

5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALOT, CHESHBON HANEFESH, AND

SICHOT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): At this point in the curriculum students have been exposed to the

full complement of practices. As the facilitator you can choose focus phrases, kabbalot or cheshbon

hanefesh points to highlight or if you feel your group is ready, have them do all the practices. Give an

example of your own experience with the chosen practice.

Solicit questions about the practice and experience from others with the practice as a form of mutual

support among the group. For example, ask the group if they have questions about using focus phrases.

If someone says they are having trouble finding an opportune time to say the phrase you can ask what

others have found helpful in terms of making time to say the phrase. Review the practice sheet carefully

with the group.

DECIDE ON A FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALAH, AND/OR TIME AND PLACE FOR CHESHBON HANEFESH

(5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation, each member decides on a focus phrase, personal

kabbalah and or time and place for Cheshbon Hanefesh. This could be something suggested in the

practice sheet or something made up by the participant.

Closing circle (5 minutes): Each person shares at least one practice that they will try out this month.

Note: Have chevruta pairs set a time to meet before the next group session. They should set this

time before they leave this session.

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SAVLANUT – FORBEARANCE/PATIENCE

Savlanut, or the ability to bear emotional discomfort, is a key middah for all spiritual and emotional

growth, not to mention living with others and achieving success in work. While this term is often

translated as “patience,” I think ”forbearance” is a better description of this middah. The Hebrew root

S.V.L means “to bear” or “suffer.” Rav Wolbe uses the image of carrying a load to describe/ס.ב.ל.

Savlanut. Each relationship we have comes with a certain load we need to carry if we are to stay in the

relationship. None of us are perfect; we all have “baggage.” We need Savlanut to deal with our own

baggage and that of our children, partners, parents and friends.

Savlanut involves becoming more aware, moment to moment, of the load we are holding, and

continue to bear the load and its accompanying emotions without casting them off or rejecting them.

Savlanut does not mean shutting down or repressing feelings. Nor does it mean being passive or

accepting perceived injustice without response. Savlanut calls on us to respond to unpleasant

experiences -- be they annoyances, insults, and/or injustices – while maintaining our relationship with

ourselves and/or with others who challenge us. Extending the metaphor of carrying, if the burden feels

too heavy we may need to get some help carrying it rather than just throw it off. Dr. Alan Morinis uses

the metaphor of a lit match and a fuse. We practice Savlanut by extending the distance between the

match and the fuse.

The Torah calls Moses the “most humble man on earth” (Numbers 12:3). Rashi, the 11th century Torah

commentator understands the word “Humble” to mean that Moses is a Savlan, an extremely forbearing

person. This is a bit odd because Moses seem to struggle with anger throughout his leadership: he

murders an abusive Egyptian taskmaster, smashes the tablets upon seeing the Golden Calf, and strikes

the rock to get water, defying God’s instruction to speak to the rock. How can Rashi describe Moses as a

Savlan?

Moses’ Savlanut is his capacity to stay connected to others even as he experiences strong and

challenging emotions. One of the refreshing things about the Torah is its honest, if at times unflattering

portrayals of its main characters, including God. Life is messy, as are the relationships in the Torah.

Moses merits the title of a Savlan because he stays with the Israelites for the long haul, carrying the load

of their stubbornness, complaining and rebelliousness even when God is ready to give up on them.

In one poignant scene after the Golden Calf incident God tells Moses, “[B]ehold, [they] are a stiff-necked

people. Now, leave Me alone so that my anger may blaze forth against them.” Moses refuses to leave

God alone at this moment. Rather, he replies:”God, let not your anger blaze forth against your

people…Turn from your blazing anger…remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob….” (Exodus 32:9-13). Not

only does Moses refuse to leave God alone to rage in anger, he reminds God of God’s connection to the

people. The intervention succeeds and the people go on to receive the second set of tablets. This refusal

to cast off the burden of his people typifies Moses’ leadership.

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The only time Moses truly despairs of the people, he requests assistance from God, saying that the

burden is too heavy for him to bear (Numbers 11). God instructs Moses to choose 70 elders, who

become assistant prophets and share the load of leadership. This is another key teaching about

Savlanut. When we feel at the end of our ability to bear something, it may be time for us to request help

from others.

Rabbi Moses Cordevero (1522-1570), in Tomer Devorah (“Date Palm of Deborah”), places Savlanut in a

mystical context. According to Jewish mysticism, Gods provides a constant flow of life energy to

everything in the world, without which nothing could exist. This flow, or Shefa, is an act of pure

Chesed/kindness from God, and not in response to or reward for anything. Rabbi Cordovero notes that

God could cut off this flow of life energy at any moment, but chooses not to even when insulted by

God’s creations. This is the essence of Savlanut – the ability to stay connected and keep goodness

flowing to those who defy your will. When things do not go according to our preference, or when people

act against our will, we can choose to stay connected to the moment, to ourselves, and to these others,

not withholding our love – especially when we are in a position of authority such as a teacher or parent.

I experienced this concept first-hand with a teenage student early in my teaching career. This student

refused to sit down and stop talking despite my asking him calmly several times. I felt anger boiling up

within me and was about to scream. I remembered this teaching of Rabbi Cordovero and reminded

myself that I am connected to and love this student. I felt the anger drain away and was able to tell him,

in a firm voice, to sit down. He did so and we continued with the class, our relationship intact.

I learned from this experience that when I remember my connection with others, it can prevent me

from “losing it.” When I do blow up in anger at someone, often it’s because I’ve forgotten my

connection. The Torah hints at this idea when, in the above dialogue between God and Moses, God says

“Leave Me alone, that my anger my blaze forth….” Raging anger is made possible by disconnection. I’ve

seen this play out more times than I’d like to admit with my children and also with my partner. When we

grow in Savlanut we grow in our ability to respond firmly yet calmly to wrongdoing and bring more love

to all situations.

Questions to Consider:

What are the types of situations or interactions that are hardest for you to maintain Savlanut?

How might using this method of “staying connected” to make a difference in your relationships?

When have you been able to channel anger and make an appropriate response to something

that was upsetting you?

What connections do you see between practicing Anavah and Savlanut?

What is a “load” you feel you are carrying? What would it be like to seek assistance?

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LEARN THE SOURCES

SAVLANUT/PATIENCE

Let’s revisit the source we previously studied regarding Moses in our Anavah unit:

Numbers 12: 1-3

ה על א מש אהרן ב ים ו ר מר דב אדות -ותר לקח אשה כשית -כי האשה הכשית אש

לקח.

1 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because

of the Cushite woman he had married, for he had

married a Cushite woman.

רו הרק אך ב הוה-ויאמ ר י ה דב מש הלא בהוה. גם מע י ר ויש בנו דב

2 They said: 'Has the Holy One spoken only with

Moses? Has God not spoken also with us?' And the

Holy One heard it.

אד ג ה ענו מ האיש מש ר ע ו למכל האדם אשני האדמה. פ

3 Now the man Moses was very humble, more so

than any man on the face of the earth.

Rashi on Numbers 12:3

Humble – Low and a Savlan שפל וסבלן -ענו

Does Moshe really seem like a Savlan?

What about killing the Egyptian, the broken tablets, striking the rock?

Exodus 2:11 – 15

הי יא ם בימים וי דל, הה ה ויג א מש ל ויצ -אחיו א, א לתם, ויר סב א; ב רי איש ויר ה, מצ מכרי-איש חיו עב א .מ

11 It came to pass in those days that when Moses

was grown up, he went out unto his brothers and

looked upon their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian

smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.

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Rashi on Exodus 2:11

להיות ולבו עיניו נתן( ר"ב) - בסבלותם וירא

:עליהם מיצר

”He saw their suffering” – He set his eyes and his

heart to feel their pain.

What kind of Savlanut do you see in this source, especially in the Rashi (quoted from the Midrash)?

Exodus 32:9-14

ר ט הוה ויאמ ל, י ה-א ת ראיתי :מש העם אהנה הזה ה-עם ו ש ף-ק . הוא ער

9 The Holy One said to Moses: 'I have seen this

people, and, behold, it is a stiff-necked people.

עתה י יחר לי הניחה ו ם אפי ו ם בה ואכלה עש א ך ו גוי אות . גדול ל

10 Now therefore leave Me alone, that My anger may

blaze forth against them and that I may consume

them; and I will make of you a great nation.'

חל יא ה וי ת מש ני-א הוה פ ר אלהיו י ויאמהוה למה ה י ך יחר ך אפ עמ ר ב את אש הוצ

ץ ר א רים מ כח מצ יד גדול ב . חזקה וב

11 And Moses implored the Holy One his God, and

said: Holy One, let not your anger blaze forth against

your people, that You brought out of the land of Egypt

with great power and with a mighty hand?

רו למה יב רים יאמ אמר מצ רעה ל בהרים אתם להרג הוציאם כלתם ב על, ול מ

ני חרון שוב; האדמה פ ך מ ם, אפ הנח -על וך הרעה עמ . ל

12 Let not the Egyptians say: It was with evil intent

that he brought them out, to slay them in the

mountains, and to consume them from the face of

the earth? Turn from Your blazing anger and

renounce the plan to punish your people.

כר יג רהם ז אב חק ל יצ ל ל רא יש יך ול , עבדר ת אש בע ם נש ר, בך לה דב ם ות ה ה, אל ב אר

ת ם-א עכ י זר ב כוכ כל; השמים כ ץ-ו הארר הזאת תי אש ן, אמר ת ם א עכ זר נחלו, ל , ועלם .ל

13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, how You

swore to them by Your Self and said to them: I will

make your offspring as numerous as the stars of

heaven, and I will give to your offspring this whole

land of which I spoke, to possess forever.”

םוינ יד הוה, ח ר, הרעה-על, י ר אש דבעמו לעשות .ל

14 And the Holy One renounced the punishment he

planned to bring upon His people.

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How is Moshe encouraging God’s Savlanut?

Below is a mystical explanation of Savlanut:

אין הרי. רעיון יכילהו שלא מה, עלבון סובל, נעלב מלך ה"הקב היות על מורה הזאת המדה השופע עליון מכח ומתקיים נזון האדם יהיה שלא רגע אין ועוד, ספק בלי מהשגחתו נסתר דבר

שפע שופע ממש הרגע באותו הוא יהיה שלא נגדו אדם חטא לא שמעולם תמצא והרי; עליו בו סובל אלא, כלל ממנו מנעו לא ההוא בכח חוטא שהאדם היות ועם, אבריו ותנועת קיומו

בחטא רגע באותו כח אותו מוציא והוא, אבריו תנועות כח בו משפיע להיות כזה עלבון ה"הקב בכחו שהרי, ו"ח, ההוא הטוב ממנו למנוע יכול שאינו תאמר ולא. סובל ה"והקב ומכעיס ועון

שהכח, זה כל ועם'(. ד, ג"י' א מלכים) לירבעם שעשה כעין, ורגליו ידיו ליבש כמימריה ברגע, בשלי ולא בשלך תחטא נגדי חוטא שאתה כיון לומר לו והיה, ההוא הנשפע הכח להחזיר בידו

עלבון זה הרי. טובו לאדם והטיב הכח והשפיע, עלבון סבל ולא האדם מן טוב מנע זה מפני לא היכלות פרקי) עלוב מלך ה"להקב השרת מלאכי קוראים זה ועל. יסופר שלא מה וסבלנות

את ולאסוף לינקם כח בעל אל, המטיב חסד בעל אל אתה", כמוך אל מי" אומרו והיינו(. ה"פכבתשובה ישוב עד ונעלב סובל אתה זה כל ועם, שלך

ועם, זו למדרגה אפילו נעלב היותו וכן, הסבלנות, רצוני, בה להתנהג האדם שצריך מדה זו הרי המקבל מן טובתו יאסוף לא זה כל

“’Who is like you, God…’ – this teaches us the reality of Hashem as a derided king who suffers insult

beyond belief. There is nothing hidden from Hashem’s watch. There is not a moment in which a human

being is not sustained from the flow of divine abundance. There is not a wrongdoing that a person does,

in which, at that same moment, the divine abundance isn’t sustaining him… While the human is

committing this wrongdoing with this very power from Hashem, Hashem suffers the insult. Don’t think

that Hashem doesn’t have the power to stop the human from the wrongdoing by cutting off the flow of

divine abundance… This is why Micah the prophet calls to Hashem, ‘Who is like you, God…’ You are a

God of kindness, doing good. You have the power to take vengeance, but you are patient and wait for

people to return in tshuva. Behold, this is a middah that people need to acquire – patience. To be able

to withstand insult and still not withhold your goodness from the other” Tomer Devorah (“The Date

Palm of Deborah”), Rabbi Moshe Cordevero

Questions to consider:

What are the types of situations or interactions that are hardest for you to maintain Savlanut?

How might using this method of “staying connected” make a difference?

When have you been able to channel anger and make an appropriate response to something

upsetting?

What is a “load” you feel like you are carrying? What would it be like to get help?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

SAVLANUT – FORBEARANCE/PATIENCE

SOURCE 1: THE PATH OF THE JUST, CHAPTER 11, RABBI MOSHE CHAIM LUZATTO (D. ITALY,

AMSTERDAM, ISRAEL)

זן יש ה רו הרג אמ ס כל, "עליו ש אלו הכוע ד כ הוא", זרה עבודה עוב עס ו יעשו דבר כל על הנכ שצונו נגד א ר מל מה ומת בר עד, ח כ ערה ועצתו עמו בל לבו ש הנה, נב דאי כזה איש ו החריב כ ל

א עולם יה אם מל ת יה כל ידו י ,ב ין כי ל א כ ט ש הש לל בו ל הוא, כ כל ממש טעם סר ו פות החיות כ הטור

[Our Talmudic sages] say about an angry person that he completely denies the existence of God. How is

this? He becomes angry whenever anything happens that is not the way he wanted it to be. He fills with

such anger until he is not connected to his mind anymore. A person in such a state is capable of

destroying the entire world if he had the ability because his mind is not in control at all…

Questions for Consideration:

When things don’t go the way you want, is anger the primary emotion your experience? What

other emotions are present?

What kinds of situations make you “lose it?”

Based on your own understanding of God, how do you think anger is a “denial of the existence of

God?”

How might you use moments of anger to actually get closer to God?

SOURCE 2: MISHNAH TORAH HILCHOT DE’OT, “THE GUIDE TO RIGHT LIVING,” MAIMONIDES

(D. 1204, SPAIN, EGYPT)1

שהיא הדעה והיא לאדם לו שיש הדעות מכל ודעה דעה שבכל בינונית מדה היא הישרה הדרך הראשונים חכמים צוו לפיכך לזו ולא לזו לא קרובה ואינה שוה ריחוק הקצוות משתי רחוקה בגופו שלם שיהא כדי האמצעית בדרך אותם ומכוין אותם ומשער תמיד דעותיו שם אדם שיהא דבר על אלא יכעוס לא בינוני אלא מרגיש שאינו כמת ולא לכעוס נוח חמה בעל יהא לא כיצד … אחרת פעם בו כיוצא יעשה שלא כדי עליו לכעוס שראוי גדול

Chapter 1:4: The way of the upright is [to adopt] the intermediate characteristic of each and every

temperament that people have. This is the characteristic that is equidistant from the two extremes of

the temperament of which it is a characteristic, and is not closer to either of the extremes… How is this

1 These passages are taken from Maimonides’ magnum opus, the Mishnah Torah, from a section called Hilchot

De’ot, which literally translates as “Laws of Character Traits”. Because it deals with character development and healthy living, we translated it here as The Guide to Right Living.

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done? One should not be of an angry disposition and be easily angered, nor should one be like a dead

person who does not feel, but one should be in the middle – one should not get angry except over a big

matter about which it is fitting to get angry, so that one will not act similarly again.

האחר הקצה עד האחד הקצה מן יתרחק אלא בבינונית בהן לנהוג לאדם לו שאסור דעות ויש( ג למאד עד היא רעה מדה הכעס וכן… בלבד עניו אדם שיהיה הטובה דרך שאין לב גובה והוא

שראוי דבר על ואפילו יכעוס שלא עצמו וילמד האחר הקצה עד ממנה שיתרחק לאדם וראוי לכעוס ורצה פרנס היה אם הציבור על או ביתו ובני בניו על אימה להטיל רצה ואם עליו לכעוס מיושבת דעתו ותהיה לייסרם כדי כועס שהוא בפניהם עצמו יראה למוטב שיחזרו כדי עליהן

כועס אינו והוא כעסו בשעת כועס מדמה שהוא כאדם עצמו לבין בינו

Chapter 2: 3) There are some intermediate temperaments which one is forbidden to have, but one

should adopt one of the extremities of such temperaments. …It is the same with anger, which is an

extremely bad temperament and from which it is fitting for one to distance oneself as far as its opposite

extreme. One should teach oneself not to get angry, even over something about which it would be

normal to get angry. If one wanted to instill fear in one’s sons or members of one’s household, or in the

community if one was their leader, and one wants to be angry at them in order that they will return to

the good [ways], then one should show them that one is being angry at them just to correct them, and,

when displaying such anger, one should bear in mind that one is like a man who is similar to being angry,

and that one is not really angry.

Questions for Consideration:

In Chapter 1 Maimonides brings anger as an example of a middah about which it is important to

find a middle path. However, in Chapter2 he says that one should always avoid getting angry.

How might you resolve this apparent contradiction?

In both passages Maimonides refers to the uses of anger. In what ways do you consciously use

anger as opposed to anger being something that just happens to you?

SOURCE 3: ALEY SHUR, VOLUME TWO, P. 217, RABBI SHLOMO WOLBE

Rav Wolbe writes about the importance of having Savlanut for ourselves:

When a person begins in a path of spiritual growth he thinks he will progress quickly. If only he

could be stronger he could focus on all his prayers and transform his soul traits one at a time

and do all the practices – What frustration he feels when he finds that he can’t be successful in

all of this! The person who wants to grow needs to learn well the following teaching of our

rabbis:

Elihu said: “The Almighty, we cannot find Him, excellent in power.” (Job 37:23) He that hears

this verse may exclaim: ‘Perhaps, Heaven forbid, this is blasphemy!’ [Because if you eliminate

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the comma after the word ‘Him” the verse implies that God’s is NOT excellent in power.] But

this is what Elihu meant: We will never find God’s strength fully displayed toward any of His

creatures, for He does not visit His creatures with burdensome laws, but comes to each one

according to his strength. For, if God had come upon Israel with the full might of His strength

when He gave them the Torah, they would not have been able to withstand it, as it says, “If we

hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die” (Deuteronomy 5:22). God,

however came upon them according to their individual strength, for it says, “The voice of the

Lord is with power” (Psalms 29:4). It does not say ‘with His power’ but ‘with power’, that is,

according to the power of each individual. – Exodus Rabbah 29:1

In other words, the midrash asserts that God aligns what is asked of each person according to that

person’s resources.

“According to the power of each individual” – this is a general principle in spiritual service. Our

resources are limited. Any growth we try to do needs to be built on this foundation – we have

no choice but to go slowly and not overburden or overextend ourselves. [There is a rabbinic

principle]- “One who grabs a lot grabs nothing, but one who grabs a little grabs something.”

(Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 17a). Also, in that little bit that we do try, we may fail often and

despite that there is no need to despair. Rather, we need to stubbornly begin again until God

helps us succeed.

We need to be very patient with ourselves…”Seven times the righteous man falls and gets up”

(Proverbs 24:16). Even if we fail many times in our practice – in the end we will succeed, with

God’s help.

Rabbi Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon (c. 1780s) writes that “everyone needs to go according to his own

level and not skip ahead. This way each person will progress on his way with a sense of security

and will get Divine assistance.”

R. Wolbe seems to be saying that we need to know our own resources and take small steps that will

push us at the edge of our comfort zone, but no further.

Questions for Consideration:

What is a way that you overburden or overextend yourself? How could you re-allign this

commitment so that is in keeping with your resources?

What is the discomfort you would need to bear to accept that you actually have limited resources?

Three times R. Wolbe and other authors mention that one will get “God’s help” in their spiritual

growth. How do you understand this idea? What does it mean for you to get “God’s help?”

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SAVLANUT PRACTICES

1. TORAH LEARNING: Sources not used during the va’ad; Everyday Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis, Savlanut

2. FOCUS PHRASES: Repeat a phrase related to Savlanut/Patience that is meaningful to you for two or

three minutes at the beginning of your day. You can find your own phrase from our reading or from

other sources. Some people have a practice of writing these phrases on an index card and placing it

somewhere where you will see it in the morning.

From Tomer Devorah Chapter 1 (paraphrase)

לא זה כל ועם... נעלב היותו וכן המקבל מן טובתו יאסוף

Despite being insulted, I will not withhold my

goodness from you

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 6

Share the burden with one’s fellow חברו עם בעל נשא

3. KABBALAH: Choose a fifteen minute period during the day, one when you know that you often get

frustrated. (I like to use the time in the morning when I need to get my two young sons out the door to go to school.) During this fifteen minute period do whatever you can to bear uncomfortable feelings and keep your goodness flowing toward others.

4. CHESHBON HANEFESH JOURNALING: Here are some prompts you may want to use:

What did you notice as you did this exercise over several days?

What emotions were most present for you?

What did you do to maintain your Savlanut?

What burdens did you feel you needed to bear?

What helped you be successful with this kabbalah? What impeded you?

How did you manage balancing Savlanut with needing to respond to wrongdoing?

5. HITBODEDUT

6. SICHAT CHAVERIM/CHEVRUTA: Have at least one 30 minute conversation about your practice with

your partner. This can include insights or questions from the reading. Split the time so each person gets 15 minutes of attention from the other person.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON SAVLANUT

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

Take a comfortable seat. Be sure your spine is straight. Scan your body for places of tension and take a few deep breaths into those areas. Prepare to sit for five to ten minutes without moving at all. Be sure to set a timer for the number of minutes you choose. Allow your attention to rest on the sensation of the in breath entering the body and the out breath leaving the body. When the desire to move at all arises, remind yourself of your commitment. Notice any unpleasant sensation or discomfort that you want to alleviate by moving. Instead of moving to be more at ease, bring attention to the place where you are not at ease. Become interested in the sensation even if it is unpleasant. What are its dimensions? What does it feel like? Is it changing as you observe it? What is the quality of the attention you are bringing to your own discomfort? To your desire to move? To realizing you cannot move until the bell rings? Can you bring a soft, loving, tolerant awareness to this experience? You are practicing savlanut -- patience and forbearance --in this moment as you stay connected in a loving way to this unpleasant experience. Continue to soften your awareness. Notice any frustration, irritability or anger and offer those feelings or thoughts the same soft, gentle and loving presence. Notice any fear that arises in the body or the mind. Bring the same loving presence and sense of connection to the thoughts and sensations of fear. Rest in the powerful quality of savlanut --patience and forbearance. Rest in the spacious energy of savlanut.

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CHESED/LOVINGKINDNESS

KEY IDEAS:

Chesed builds the world

Chesed needs to be balanced with healthy boundaries

PRACTICES:

Learning

Focus Phrase

Kabbalot

Cheshbon Hanefesh

Sichat Chaverim/Chevruta

1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (10-15 MINUTES)

Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being.

DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention to the

present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention before switching.

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 10–15 minutes

Va’ad 35–40 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: Chesed/Lovingkindness 35–40 minutes

Practice: Learning, Focus Phrase, Kabbalot, 15 minutes Cheshbon Hanefesh and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

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Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

listener can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

2. VA’AD (35-40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the va’ad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

the middah and practices of the past period of time.

REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

want to say during their time in the va’ad. Remind them that they chose a practice, or practices last

month related to Savlanut.

SHARING (3 minutes per person – total time depends on group size.): Try to keep the va’ad sharing to

no more than 30 minutes. If the group consists of more than eight, you may want to break up into

groups of three or four to save time).

Note: The time boundary is important during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell that will alert

the speaker that time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence, but if they go on

considerably longer the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up. Maintaining the

time boundary is essential to ensuring the safety of the group.

Cross-talk is not permitted during the sharing portion of the va’ad. It is ok to say “thank you” or

something equally benign after someone speaks, although warm and accepting body language is

just as good. If a member starts to give advice or comment it is very important to interrupt and

remind the group to avoid cross talk during the va’ad so as to maintain safety. You can refer to

the guidelines.

SILENCE (1 minute): It is important provide this quiet time to honor and process what was just shared,

before entering a discussion.

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DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This is for open discussion and sharing of observations about the middah.

Ask people to share insights or questions they have about Savlanut practice. If you separated the group

into small groups, bring everyone together for the discussion.

Note: It is not the time for advice giving or seeking. If someone does give advice, direct them

back to sharing about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

for advice, redirect the question to be about the issue in general and not his or her specific case.

3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

4. LEARNING: CHESED/LOVINGKINDNESS (35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

INTRODUCTION TO CHESED (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Chesed based on your own study

of the middah. Introduce the text, e.g. provide context if it is a Torah story or a piece from the Talmud.

This curriculum provides three options for study during the va’ad meeting.

1. Introductory Essay: A short essay about the middah, including personal stories and the author’s

interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written in a conversational tone

and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in classic Beit Midrash style

text study. The essay is also useful to get a quick overview of the middah or topic as background

for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet which includes a brief introduction to the text, the

primary sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary

sources in Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: These are short primary sources with study questions that can serve as

extensions during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study

outside of the va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very

limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

though they used different source sheets.

CHEVRUTA (10-15 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

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answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, dyad work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the readings.

5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALOT, CHESHBON HANEFESH, AND

SICHOT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): At this point in the curriculum students have been exposed to the

full complement of practices. As the facilitator you can choose focus phrases, kabbalot or cheshbon

hanefesh points to highlight or, if you feel your group is ready, have them do all the practices. Offer an

example from your own experience with the chosen practice.

Solicit questions about the practice and experience from others with the practice as a form of mutual

support among the group. For example, ask the group if they have questions about using focus phrases.

If someone says they are having trouble finding an opportune time to say the phrase you can ask what

others have found helpful in terms of making time to say the phrase.

DECIDE ON A FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALAH, AND/OR TIME AND PLACE FOR CHESHBON HANEFESH

(5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation, each member decides on a focus phrase, personal

kabbalah and or time and place for Cheshbon Hanefesh. This could be something suggested in the

practice sheet or something made up by the participant.

CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each person shares at least one practice that they will adopt this month.

Note: Before they leave, have chevruta pairs set a time to meet before the next group session.

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CHESED/LOVINGKINDNESS

יבנה חסד עולם Olam Chesed Yibaneh

The World is built through Chesed

According to the mystical tradition, God created the world simply to bestow kindness and love on all

creation.1 This constant flow of Chesed initiated and sustains the world. We humans are also creators.

This is one of the most important ways that we imitate God. What is our means of creating and building

the world? We might think it is our imagination, our ability to envision something new. Mussar master

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d. 2005, Israel) teaches that it is Chesed. Each act of Chesed builds the world.

What is so significant about this middah, Chesed, that it “builds the world?” Chesed is commonly

understood to mean giving to others. Chesed means providing meals to parents of newborns, visiting the

sick and others similar activities usually organized by our communal Chesed committees. Gemilut

Chasadim, the term often used in the rabbinic tradition, means using one’s life energy to help or give to

another. Maimonides (d. 1204, Egypt) calls this type of giving, Chesed Sh’b’gufo – Chesed done with the

self.2 The rabbis of the Talmud claim that Chesed is greater than Tzedakah (philanthropy) and Mishpat

(social justice) because it can be done with one’s self and not just with one’s money, and with anyone,

not just the poor.3 Chesed is on the short list of mitzvot that the Mishnah teaches have no minimum

amount.4 There is no barrier to entry with Chesed. Any act of kindness, no matter how small, is good.

Rabbi Wolbe includes in his Chesed practices smiling warmly, judging others favorably, and bearing

another’s burden with him or her. These are actions that weave the fabric of a community. Chesed puts

us in regular, intimate contact with those around us. In all these ways, Chesed builds the world.

Chesed may also be understood in contrast to its opposing middah in the Kabbalistic, mystical system,

Gevurah/Discipline/Boundaries. Chesed refers to a flow of lovingkindness that breaks through

boundaries, external or self-imposed. On their own, these and all middot can have extreme

manifestations that are not always positive. Tradition teaches that God originally intended to create the

world only with the middah of Din/Gevurah, but realized it couldn’t be sustained, so then added Chesed.

Just as too much Gevurah/boundaries can lead to rigidity, when unmodified by boundaries Chesed can

leave one feeling used and depleted, and the recipients of such Chesed feeling smothered or unseen.

We all probably know of people who practice unbalanced Chesed. Perhaps we’ve experienced it

1 The Way of God, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato

2 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourning 14:1

3 Talmud Bavli Sukkah 49b

4 Mishnah Peah 1:1

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ourselves. This is why we refer to God in the standing silent prayer, the Amidah, as “Gomel Chasadim

Tovim/One who bestows good loving kindness.” It is possible to have bad Chesed. 5

How do we practice a Chesed that balances giving with boundaries so that it actually builds the world?

Rav Wolbe points us to one of the Torah’s most powerful passages about giving: “If, however, there is a

needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your

God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you

must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs ( ר יחסר לו 6.(אש

The Torah calls on us to really see what the other needs as a first step before acting on the impulse to

give.7 Often we only see our own needs projected onto the other when we want to give. A well-known

example from international aid circles is the case of a well-meaning young man who wanted to help

poor African children. He started a non-profit organization to collect and donate t-shirts. His assumption

was that everyone in the U.S. has extra t-shirts and people in Africa lack clothes, so let’s donate our t-

shirts. After a huge number of t-shirts were collected and shipped to Africa, the international aid

community prevailed on him to stop because people did not need the shirts in the place he sent them.

His free t-shirts also endangered the fragile local economy by undermining demand for locally produced

clothing. This type of unbounded, harmful Chesed can be prevented by practicing Savlanut/forbearance

and making the effort to truly see and hear what the other needs. Then we can target our Chesed where

and how it is really needed.

This boundaried or balanced Chesed is fundamental to healthy relationships in general, especially when

power imbalances exist. Rabbi Yisrael Dov Baer of Velednik, a Hassidic master, refers to a mystical

concept called “Sod Nesira,” or “The Secret of Separation” when describing the intimate meeting

between the Chassidic Rebbe and Chasid, in which the Rebbe connects to the soul of his follower.8 The

Sod Nesira is the principle that healthy relationships are based on a sober sense of otherness and

boundaries. A rabbinic midrash teaches that the first human was actually a two-faced creature, male on

one side and female on the other.9 One might think that the complete unity experienced by this

creature is highly desirable. However, the creature needed to be split into two separate, individuated

human beings for real relationship to be possible. This is the nesira/separation needed for healthy

relationships. Likewise, when our Chesed is based on a healthy sense of otherness and respect for

difference, real relationships can flourish.

5 Alan Morinis, lecture on Chesed at The Mussar Institute Kallah IX

6 Deuteronomy 15:7-8

7 The ideas in this paragraph are a paraphrase of Aley Shur II pgs. 198-200

8 See the beginning of She’erit Yisrael by Rabbi Yisrael Dov Baer of Velednik

9 Genesis Rabbah

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The greatest form of Chesed, according to Rav Wolbe, is solidarity, or bearing/shouldering the burden

with the other. In his Laws of Mourning, Maimonides writes that escorting a guest into the street is the

greatest type of Chesed.10 By escorting or having our arm around our guest in the public realm, we are

not only caring for the other’s needs -- we are walking in that person’s shoes and saying, “I am with you.

And I’ll prove it by being here with you and making myself vulnerable along with you.” 11 This was the

Chesed of the freedom riders during the civil rights struggle and of anyone who has stood publically

alongside vulnerable people. More than empathy , this kind of identification and solidarity fosters

relationships which truly “build the world.”

Questions for Consideration:

What do you think is greater – Chesed or Tzedakah? Why?

Can you apply this idea of balanced Chesed to giving Chesed to yourself?

What is it like to receive thoughtful, balanced Chesed?

Have you ever received or given unbalanced Chesed?

Recall a time you acted in solidarity with others, or were joined by others in solidarity? In what

ways were these experiences of Chesed for you?

10

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourning 14:2 11

I first heard this idea from Rabbi Steve Greenberg

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LEARN THE SOURCES

CHESED/LOVINGKINDNESS

The Psalmist teaches us that the world is built through Chesed (Psalm 89:2). We certainly see how our

communities are built through our member’s acts of lovingkindness. This text study examines a basic

orientation towards Chesed, truly seeing the needs of the other, and particular application of Chesed –

giving warm attention to the other. Unlike other study sessions, which are based almost completely in

primary sources, this one includes many of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe’s comments about the sources. Rabbi

Wolbe (d. 2005) was one of the preeminent Mussar teachers in Israel. Through the practice of seeing

the other we will explore the nature of relationships created through Chesed. Our texts are taken from

Rabbi Wolbe’s chapter on Chesed in Aley Shor II. He starts by describing the first steps in developing

Chesed:

ח פתח כי עבט לו ידך את תפת עביטנו וה חסרו די ת ר אשר מ :לו יחס

“You shall surely open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, that which he

lacks.” Deuteronomy 15:8

Rashi: LEND HIM – If he doesn’t want a gift, give him a loan. SUFFICIENT FOR HIS NEED – And you are not commanded to make him rich. THAT WHICH HE LACKS – Even a horse to ride on and a slave to run in front of him. HE (לו) – This is a wife, as it says “I will make for HIM (לו) an Ezer Knegdo (help-mate).

SUFFICIENT FOR HIS NEED – and not more. But, regarding, THAT WHICH HE LACKS – there is no norm.

Just as people’s temperaments are different so are their needs. One who wants to be a chesedik person

needs to first of all learn to see and listen for what the other is lacking. “What HE lacks,” it is written. HIS

– regarding his personal, particular needs. Just as Rashi says, “This is a wife,” implies that one finds a life

partner who is suitable to him particularly, so it is with all one’s needs.

Let us describe for ourselves a wealthy person who lost his fortune: He needs to leave his beautiful

home and live in a small apartment. Of all his gold and silver nothing remains – he accepts all this. Yet,

there is one thing that really bothers him. He no longer has his nice car and now needs to ride public

transportation or walk. He feels humiliated to leave home each morning to go to work and each evening

to return home. He is not so brazen as to request that others give him a car….But we are obligated to

understand that this is what he truly lacks. Whether or not we should put effort into getting him a car –

this is an issue of priorities. If we are also involved with helping those who lack food and sick people who

need medicine, certainly they have priority over one who lacks a car. But, if it were the case that we had

enough money…certainly we are obligated to fill his need.

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We need to learn this. One’s first reaction to hearing the groaning of a formerly wealthy person about

his fate that he needs to walk by foot, is anger: How can he be so brazen as to even speak about such a

thing when there are so many people that need food! But, to HIM, this is a source of pain and I need to

understand well that this is truly THAT WHICH HE LACKS. Basically we are not going to get him a “horse

to ride on…” but when we understand well his needs and his pain, at least we can comfort him with

words and give him hope that some day, with God’s help, he will regain his wealth.

There are different types of needs: There are those a person talks about. There are those that a person

doesn’t even notice are lacking; I need to go down to the depths of his situation and check what is

lacking. One needs financial help, another work, a third guidance, a forth healing, a fifth spirituality…and

I need to learn to see these needs. Beware: We are not yet dealing with acts of Chesed, rather with

understanding and seeing, THAT WHICH HE LACKS…

…Most of the time we find that the other lacks exactly what we lack. How is it that most of the people

we meet suffer from exactly the same needs!? Once again here our egoism misleads us: We measure

everyone else with our own standards, and what we are lacking seems to us to also be lacking for him.

How is this? We see ourselves in the other. It is as if every person whom we meet is only a mirror in

which we see ourselves. We have not yet emerged from our egoistic perspective to see that the other is

not identified with us. He is “other,” different from us completely. It is our task to understand how the

other is different from us and to search for what he lacks and not what we lack!

Questions for Consideration:

What is challenging for you about really seeing the needs of others?

How have you been successful with this in the past?

How might giving without really seeing the needs of the other be harmful?

How might noticing the needs of the other protect you as the giver?

A “balanced” Chesed is that which takes into the account the desire to give and the actual need.

What is it like to receive thoughtful, balanced Chesed?

Have you ever received or given unbalanced Chesed?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

CHESED – LOVINGKINDNESS

The following mishnaic, Talmudic, medieval, and modern sources highlight other aspects of Chesed.

SOURCE 1: ALEY SHOR, RABBI SHLOMO WOLBE (D. 2005, ISRAEL), CHESED

This excerpt is the next piece in Rabbi Wolbe’s chapter on Chesed after noticing the needs of the others.

It is longer than the typical “For Further Study” source and has questions interwoven with the text study.

In this next section, Rabbi Wolbe focuses on the concept of “Ha’arat Panim” – literally “the illuminated

face.” Rabbi Wolbe explains that “Ha’arat Panim” is one of the special characteristics with which God

endowed humans when making us in the Divine image.

This first text is from the book of Exodus, when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt just before God

called to Moshe at the burning bush.

Exodus 2:23-25

יהי ימים ו בים ב ימת ההם הר ים מלך ו יאנחו מצר יזעקו העבדה מן ישראל בני ו ל ו ע ת ועתם ו ש :העבדה מן האלהים אל

ע ישמ אקתם את אלהים ו יזכר נ עקב ואת יצחק את אברהם את בריתו את אלהים ו :י רא י ע ישראל בני את אלהים ו יד :אלהים ו

It came to pass after much time that the king of Egypt died and the Israelites groaned from the work.

They cried out and their scream went up to God from their work.

And God heard their groaning; God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

And God saw the Israelites, and God understood.

Rashi on Exodus 2:25

עיניו העלים ולא לב עליהם נתן - אלהים וידע( כה)

AND GOD UNDERSTOOD – He paid close attention to them and did not hide His eyes.

The Hebrew for “paying attention” is “natan aleihem lev” – giving heart/mind to them. When

was a time someone attended fully to you? How did you know they were paying attention?

What did this feel like?

Until this point, in the Egyptian exile… Hashem hid His eyes from them – this is the attribute of Hester

Panim/the hidden face. The moment that “He did not hide His eyes” anymore – the redemption began

and Hashem called Moshe to be his messenger of redemption.

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What do you think the connection is between “redemption” and good attention?

When Hashem created the human in His image, it was not just that Hashem gave from His honor to

humans to crown them with the exalted attributes of the intellect and good soul-traits. But also Hashem

endowed humans with the power of Ha’arat Panim/Shining Countenance [literally – illuminated face].

Also within the shining face of a person is hidden a treasure of blessing and grace. The secret of the

shining face in humans is Da’at/understanding: The power of meditation and good attention without

turning away. Just as Rashi explained above that Hashem, “paid attention to them and did not hide His

eyes.” Rashi made a similar comment regarding Moshe:

Exodus 2:11

יהי ימים ו ל ההם ב יגד יצא משה ו רא אחיו אל ו י רא בסבלתם ו י כה מצרי איש ו עברי אישמ : מאחיו

It came to pass in those days that Moshe grew and went out to his brethren and saw their suffering. He

saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his brothers.

Rashi on Exodus 2:11

:עליהם מיצר להיות ולבו עיניו נתן - בסבלתם וירא

AND HE SAW THEIR SUFFERING – He looked and paid attention (lit: gave his heart) to feel their distress.

Moshe was connected to the secret of understanding and the shining face. Because of this he was fitting

to be the messenger of redemption…

Rabbi Wolbe teaches that it was Moshe’s quality of Da’at/understanding that enabled him to

“shine his face” and give good attention. At first glance it seems that paying attention would

lead to understanding. What type of Da’at/understanding makes possible offering good

attention?

We will now go step by step in our Avodah and it is time to approach learning a practical step…The soul-

trait of “shining face” itself flows into actual behavior mentioned by Shamai the Elder in Pirkei Avot

(1:15):

פנים בסבר האדם כל את מקבל והוי הרבה ועשה מעט אמור קבע תורתך עשה אומר שמאי : יפות

“Shamai says: ‘make a fixed time for Torah; say little and do much and greet every person with a

friendly/bright/pleasant face (Sever Panim Yafot).” – this is the practical application of “shining face.”

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This is a great thing. What our rabbis call “giving peace/ " שלום תינתנ is not simply an expression. One

who gives a friendly face to his fellow actually “gives” him peace…

Do you have a role model of someone who does this practice of Sever Panim Yafot? What do

you notice about him or her?

When are you able to do this, if at all? What factors are involved in enabling you to give such a

warm, shining face to others?

Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein, a great Mussar leader of the previous generation, tells a story about his first

days in the Kelm Yeshiva. He was very young when he arrived, and felt anxious about entering because

he didn’t know anyone. A young man entered the lobby, walked straight up to him, shook his hand

vigorously and with a warm smile said, “Welcome! It is so great to see you. I am so glad you are here!

Come, eat something because you must be hungry.” Young Rabbi Moshe was very happy because clearly

this young man knew him from somewhere. At that moment another young man entered and also

greeted him with the same warmth. Rabbi Moshe was surprised because it seemed like this young man

knew him too, but he couldn’t remember meeting him before. Then he realized that this is the way new

people are greeted in Kelm. In that big house Rabbi Moshe learned how to fulfill the mitzvah of

“greeting all people with a warm smile.”

In what ways does your community already practice Sever Panim Yafot and in what ways can

you imagine this practice changing your community?

How might practicing Sever Panim Yafot influence other types of Chesed that you or others do?

SOURCE 2: MISHNA PEAH 1:1 (C. 220 CE, ISRAEL)

פאה. שעור להם שאין דברים אלו (א) בכורים, ה למוד, חסדים וגמילות, והראיון, וה . תורה ות זה בעולם פרותיהן אוכל שאדם דברים אלו קרן ה ימת וה בא לעולם לו ק , ואם אב כבוד. ה

הבאת, חסדים וגמילות חברו אדם בין שלום ו למוד ל כולם כנגד תורה ות

These are the things that have no measure (minimum or maximum amount): Leaving the corners of the

field for the poor, the first fruits brought to Jerusalem as an offering, the pilgrimage offering, acts of

loving kindness and Torah study.

These are the things that a person eats of their fruit in this world and principle remains for him in the

world to come: honoring parents, acts of loving kindness, making peace among people, and Torah study

is equal to them all.

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Questions for Consideration:

Why might these particular five mitzvot have no measure, as opposed to other mitzvot?

What can we learn about Chesed from its placement in this group?

Honoring one’s parents and making peace seem to be forms of “acts of loving kindness.” In what

ways might acts of loving kindness be different meriting their own category?

Think about your own acts of Chesed. How have you experienced the idea of “no measure?”

SOURCE 3: TALMUD BAVLI SUKKAH 49B (C. 550 CE, BABYLONIA)

גמילות, בממונו - צדקה, הצדקה מן יותר חסדים גמילות גדולה דברים בשלשה: רבנן תנו. לעשירים בין לעניים בין - חסדים גמילות, לעניים - צדקה. בממונו בין בגופו בין - חסדים צדקה העושה כל: אלעזר רבי ואמר. למתים בין לחיים בין - חסדים גמילות, לחיים - צדקה

' ה חסד ומשפט צדקה אוהב+ לג תהלים+ שנאמר, חסד כולו העולם כל מילא כאילו - ומשפט .הארץ מלאה

The rabbis taught: In three ways Gemilut Chasadim is greater than Tzedakah. Tzedakah is accomplished

with money, Gemilut Chasadim with one’s person or with money. Tzedakah is for the poor, Gemilut

Chasadim is done for the rich and the poor. Tzedakah is done for the living, Gemilut Chasadim is for the

living and the dead. And Rabbi Eleazar said: Whoever does Tzedakah and mishpat, it is as if s/he has

filled the entire world with Chesed, as it is written: [God] loves Tzedakah and mishpat; the Chesed of

God fills the earth (Psalm 33:5).

Questions for Consideration:

According to this text why do all the differences between gemilut hasadim and Tzedakah make

Chesed greater than Tzedakah? What do you think is greater about each example?

According to Rabbi Eleazar’s statement, Tzedekah and Mishpat lead to the world being filled

with Chesed. Do you think doing Chesed would also lead the world to being filled with Tzedakah

and Mishpat? Why or why not? Based on your answer, which is greater, Tzedakah or Gemilut

Hasadim?

Are you drawn more to Gemilut Hasadim, Tzedekah or Mishpat (social justice)? Why?

Which of your actions would you say had a greater impact, Gemilut Chasadim or Tzedakah?

Does “greater impact” make one “greater” than the other? Why or why not?

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SOURCE 4: MAIMONIDES (D. 1204, EGYPT), MISHNEH TORAH, LAWS OF MOURNING

וללוות הכלה ולהכניס המת ולהוציא אבלים ולנחם חולים לבקר דבריהם של עשה מצות( א ולקבור ולחפור ולספוד לפניו ולילך הכתף על לשאת הקבורה צרכי בכל ולהתעסק האורחים

להם שאין שבגופו חסדים גמילות הן ואלו צרכיהם בכל ולסעדם והחתן הכלה לשמח וכן שאתה הדברים כל כמוך לרעך ואהבת בכלל הן הרי מדבריהם אלו מצות שכל פ"אע שיעורובמצות בתורה לאחיך אותן אתה עשה אחרים לך אותם שיעשו רוצה

מאכיל בה שנהג החסד ודרך אבינו אברהם שחקקו החק והוא הכל מן מרובה הלויה שכר( ב שנאמר שכינה פני מהקבלת אורחים הכנסת וגדולה אותן ומלוה אותן ומשקה דרכים עוברי שופך כאילו מלוה שאינו כל חכמים אמרו מהכנסתן יותר ולוויים אנשים שלשה והנה וירא דמים

14:1 It is a positive commandment to visit the sick, comfort mourners, escort the dead, take care of a

bride’s needs, accompany a guest and be involved in all the needs for burial…these are Gemilut

Chasadim that one does with one’s body and they have no fixed measure…

14:2 The reward for escorting guests is greater than them all. This is the practice that was established by

Avraham who behaved with Chesed, feeding and giving drink to travelers and accompanying them on

their way. Greater is welcoming guests than receiving the face of the Shechinah…and escorting guests is

greater than welcoming them. According to our sages, anyone who does not escort his guests it is as if

he has shed blood.

Questions for Consideration:

Why might escorting guests be greater than welcoming them in?

What does the fact that escorting is the greatest act of Chesed teach us about Chesed in

general?

In the next section of the Mishneh Torah Maimonides explains that the accepted practice is to

escort a guest to the end of one’s Sabbath boundary (2000 cubits from one’s home). In other

words, one must go as far one can go to escort a guest. What would it look like for you to go to

your limit, literally or figuratively to escort a guest, or do another type of Chesed?

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CHESED/LOVINGKINDNESS PRACTICES

1. TORAH LEARNING: Sources not used during the va’ad

Everyday Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis, Chesed

2. FOCUS PHRASE: Suggested phrases:

יבנה חסד עולם Olam Hesed Yibaneh (Psalm 89:3) The world is built through Chesed

ה בל ויו יפות פנים בסבר האדם כל את מק Haveh Mekabel et Kol Ha’adam b’sever panim yafot (Pirkei Avot 1:15)

Greet each person (the whole person) with a warm smile

ח פתח כי עבט לו ידך את תפת עביטנו וה חסרו די ת ר אשר מ :לו יחס You shall surely open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, that which he lacks.

(Deuteronomy 15:8)

3. KABBALOT: Direct your attention, as much as possible, to situations in which others may need

support in “bearing their load.” Try to do this with one person/day and choose the person on whom you

will focus. The goal is not simply to notice, but to also pay attention to what it is like for you to notice

where others struggle and may need a hand. It is ok to ask the person what they need. Be mindful of the

extent to which you may be projecting your own needs.

Give your best, warm attention and a smile to at least three different people each day. Try to really

notice the people to whom you are giving your attention. Again, the goal of the exercise is not simply to

smile and give attention to people, but to notice what it is like for you to do this.

4. CHESHBON HANEFESH: Here are some prompts you may want to use for your journaling or hitbodedut:

What was easy and what was challenging about noticing others?

What was challenging and what was easy for you about offering warm attention?

Was it harder to give attention to certain people? Why do you think?

What is the role of Da’at/understanding for you in offering attention?

Why do you think this practice is a form of Chesed?

5. SICHOT CHAVERIM/CHEVRUTA: Have at least one 30 minute conversation about your practice with

your partner. This can include insights or questions from the reading. Split the time so each person gets

15 minutes of attention from the other person.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON CHESED

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

Sit comfortably allowing your spine to be erect and your heart to be soft.

Bring your attention to your hands resting in your lap or on your legs.

Let the palms be open and facing up.

Let the fingers soften and relax.

Let the shape of your hands show that you are open in your heart.

You do not need to hold on.

You are not in need of anything in this moment.

See if you can relax even more deeply in your hands.

In the palm, in the muscles and bones of the fingers. Let the skin be soft.

Pause

Now become aware of the exhale. See if you can feel the breath leave your body freely. Feel the breath

leaving your body. Allow the breath to complete itself naturally.

Be aware: “I have no need to hold on to this breath.”

Sit for a few minutes in this posture of chesed.

If you notice contraction or tension in the body or a thought of fear or judgment arise in the mind,

surround it with softness. Allow whatever is presenting itself in this moment to be fine, to be good.

Ring the bell

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KAVOD/RESPECT, DIGNITY, HONOR

KEY IDEA:

Kavod involves treating oneself and others in a way reflecting the belief that all people are created in

the Divine image.

PRACTICES:

Learning

Focus Phrase

Kabbalot

Cheshbon Hanefesh

Sichat Chaverim/Chevruta

1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (10-15 MINUTES)

Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being.

DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention to the

present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention before switching.

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 10–15 minutes

Va’ad 35–40 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: Kavod/Dignity 35–40 minutes

Practice: Learning, Focus Phrase, Kabbalot, 15 minutes Cheshbon Hanefesh and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

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Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

listener can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

2. VA’AD (35-40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the va’ad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

the middah and practices of the past period of time.

REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

want to say during their time in the va’ad. Remind them that the practices for last month included focus

phrases, Kabbalot and Cheshbon HaNefesh for Chesed.

SHARING (3 minutes per person – total time depends on group size.): Try to keep the va’ad sharing to

no more than 30 minutes. If the group consists of more than eight, you may want to break up into

groups of three or four to save time.

Note: The time boundary is important during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell that will alert

the speaker that time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence, but if they go on

considerably longer the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up. Maintaining the

time boundary is essential to ensuring the safety of the group.

Cross-talk is not permitted during the sharing portion of the va’ad. It is ok to say “thank you” or

something equally benign after someone speaks, although warm and accepting body language is

just as good. If a member starts to give advice or comment it is very important to interrupt and

remind the group to avoid cross talk during the va’ad so as to maintain safety. You can refer to

the guidelines.

SILENCE (1 minute): It is important to provide this quiet time to honor and process what was just

shared, before entering a discussion.

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DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This is for open discussion and sharing of observations about the middah.

Ask people to share insights or questions they have about Chesed or the practices. If you separated the

group into small groups, bring everyone together for the discussion.

Note: It is not the time for advice giving or seeking. If someone does give advice, direct them

back to sharing about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

for advice, redirect the question to be about the issue in general and not his or her specific case.

3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

4. LEARNING: KAVOD/DIGNITY (35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

INTRODUCTION TO KAVOD (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Kavod based on your own study of

the middah. Introduce the text, e.g. provide context if it is a Torah story or a piece from the Talmud. This

curriculum provides three options for study during the va’ad meeting.

1. Introductory Essay: A short essay about the middah, including personal stories and the author’s

interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written in a conversational tone

and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in classic Beit Midrash style

text study. The essay is also useful to get a quick overview of the middah or topic as background

for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet which includes a brief introduction to the text, the

primary sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary

sources in Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: These are short primary sources with study questions that can serve as

extensions during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study

outside of the va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very

limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

though they used different source sheets.

CHEVRUTA (10-15 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

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answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, dyad work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the readings.

5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALOT, CHESHBON HANEFESH, AND

SICHOT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): At this point in the curriculum students have been exposed to the

full complement of practices. As the facilitator you can choose focus phrases, kabbalot or cheshbon

hanefesh points to highlight or if you feel your group is ready, have them do all the practices. Give an

example of your own experience with the chosen practice.

Solicit questions about the practice and experience from others with the practice as a form of mutual

support among the group. For example, ask the group if they have questions about using focus phrases.

If someone says they are having trouble finding an opportune time to say the phrase you can ask what

others have found helpful in terms of making time to say the phrase. Review the practice sheet carefully

with the group.

DECIDE ON A FOCUS PHRASE AND/OR KABBALAH (5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation,

each member decides on a focus phrase, personal kabbalah and or time and place for Cheshbon

Hanefesh. This could be something suggested in the practice sheet or something made up by the

participant.

CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each person shares at least one practice that they will try out this month.

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KAVOD/DIGNITY/HONOR1

Kavod is about recognition, dignity and honor. Who doesn’t want Kavod? Our mass-media society is

obsessed with public recognition. “Friends” on Facebook and “followers” on Twitter determine

someone’s status and success. I don’t exempt myself from this yearning for Kavod. For example, I cringe

when I see those issues of magazines and newspapers that list the top 50 under 50 or the best this or

that. Especially irksome to me are the lists of the most influential rabbis. My ego cries out, “recognize

me!” The yearning for external recognition, or public Kavod, comes from the ego. This part of our inner

life is concerned primarily with ourselves and self-preservation, to the exclusion of others. It is perfectly

healthy to need recognition and attention. However, the intensity of the anger most of us feel over a

minor slight to our dignity, such as having our name left off a list of people being publicly recognized,

reveals something deep at play in our psyches.

What slights to your dignity get you most worked up?

True Kavod reflects an inner awareness of one’s kedushah/holiness. That is the starting point. We are all

holy, divine souls and everything in this world has an element of holiness in it. The prophet Isaiah

records the angels calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Divine Host, the entire world is filled with God’s

Kavod.”2 If we understood our inner holiness, we would act with Kavod. Rabbi Wolbe expreses the

concept this way: “Kavod is external behavior mandated by and appropriate to a reality of inner

holiness.” If we want to understand Kavod, we need to open our hearts to sense the holiness in

ourselves, in others and in the world.

Jewish law is clear and detailed regarding the mandate to honor our parents. The Talmud states “[t]here

are three partners in the birth of a child – the mother, the father and God.”3 The Ten Commandments

are split into two categories: those dealing with human-God relations (like Shabbat), and those dealing

with inter-human relations (like stealing). Honoring parents is included with those laws between people

and God.4 The Talmud and the Torah signal to us that parents embody a certain holiness that is akin to

God’s holiness. For this reason, parents are the recipients of great Kavod. Kavod connotes not only

external behavior, but a pathway to spirituality.

The first step in cultivating the middah of Kavod, and, indeed, all spirituality, is comprehending one’s

own significance. Kavod comes from the Hebrew root K.V.D./ .ד.ב.כ , meaning heavy or weighty. Its

opposite is K.L./ .ל.ק , meaning light or insignificant. We need to perceive our own significance as made

1 Many of the ideas in this essay are based on Aley Shor II, Kavod, sections 1-6 by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe

2 Isaiah 6:3

3 Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 30b

4 Exodus 20:12

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in the divine image. If we could fully integrate this truth, we wouldn’t seek external recognition. We

would treat ourselves with Kavod out of an inborn awareness of our inherent value. How might your life

look different if you had that awareness? I know that I would eat better, get more sleep, and take on

fewer projects, knowing that my significance didn’t depend on anyone’s approval. Spiritual growth is

demanding and can challenge the ego. That is why it must be based on a firm sense of one’s own worth.

Lest one think that cultivating self-esteem is a contemporary phenomenon, note that as early as the 13th

century, Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerondi (d. 1263, Spain) declared that the path of spiritual growth starts

with knowing one’s own worth. He tells us to remember that we have glorious ancestors, Abraham and

Sarah, Moses and Miriam, King David, etc. We should comprehend that we descend from great people

and share in their inheritance.5

Using R. Yonah’s methodology, what is some aspect of your life or ancestry about which you feel

positively, and might boost your sense of your own significance?

There are three aspects to Kavod practice: Kavod for oneself, as described in the paragraph above;

Kavod for others; and Kavod seeking. Ben Zoma teaches in Pirkei Avot, “Who is honorable? One who

honors others.”6 Honoring others is a kind of diagnostic. Someone who can recognize the holiness of the

other is one who has a connection to her own holy soul.

In contrast, "Rabbi Elazar HaKapar says: Three things drive a person from the world -- jealousy, base

desires and Kavod.7" Rabbi Elazar is describing Kavod seeking. Rav Kook teaches that “It is only when a

person is in a state of low-level spirituality he will experience a desire to glorify himself before honoring

others. Such a person will seek honor both through the virtues he possesses and with other virtues that

he does not possess.”8 When we need and seek recognition from others it is a sure sign that we lack a

deep sense of our own holiness and Kavod.

What do you think it means to be driven from the world?

Offering Kavod is a creative act. Ideally it flows from a recognition of the holiness of the other. It can be

as simple as having a warm smile, but takes practice to develop. Each person’s soul is different. What

might seem like Kavod to one person may be insulting to another. Rav Wolbe urges us to try giving

Kavod on a regular basis to see what works for us. The more we refine our own souls and know our own

value, the easier it becomes for us to value the other.

5 Sha’arei Kedushah/The Gates of Holiness by R. Yonah of Gerondi

6 Avot 4:1

7 Avot 4:26

8 Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook - Middot Harayah: Kavod 4

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LEARN THE SOURCES

KAVOD/DIGNITY

The term “Kavod/כבוד” can be translated as “respect,” “dignity,” or “honor.” To begin our exploration of

the meaning of this term let’s look at two quotes from Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe’s introduction to the

middah of Kavod in his Aley Shor II:

The word “Kavod” is from the Hebrew root “K.V.D.” (which means weighty or heavy). The

diametric opposite is the word “Klala”(curse) which comes from the Hebrew root “K.L.” (light).

When I relate to someone with due seriousness I honor him, and if I treat him lightly it is as if I

curse him.

…Kavod is external behavior mandated by and appropriate to a reality of inner holiness. Behold,

you have within you a Tzelem Elokim Kadosh (holy divine image) – this requires you to treat

yourself with a certain level of self-respect…

Questions for Consideration:

How do these ideas find expression or not in the following statements regarding Kavod in Pirkei

Avot, chapter 4?

י נאה, אומר הקפר אלעזר רב ין והכבוד והתאוה הק יא ן האדם את מוצ :העולם מ

Rabbi Elazar HaKapar says: Three things drive a person from the world - jealousy, base desires

and kavod.

יות את המכבד, מכבד איזהו הבר

Ben Zoma says…Who is honorable? One who honors all others.

Questions for Consideration:

What does it mean to be driven from the world?

For a further examination of the inner dimension of Kavod, see the ideas of the following two 20th

century thinkers:

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R. Shalom Noach Barzofsky (The Slonimer Rebbe). This excerpt is a commentary on the quote above

from Pirke Avot 4:1:

When the Mishnah asks, “Who is dignified?” it does not mean, “Who is made dignified by other

people,” as is the common understanding. What value is there in being dependent on other people

giving you dignity? Rather, “Who is dignified? One who gives dignity to all people” is teaching that

the gaze of one person to another is like glancing in the mirror – if his face is dirty he will see in the

mirror a dirty face. So it is the same when a person looks at the other – the amount that he is pure

and refined internally, so he will look more generously upon the other and see good attributes. On

the other hand, if he is infected with bad attributes and behaviors, so he will see bad attributes in

everyone else. Therefore, the truly dignified person is the one who treats all people with dignity,

who appreciates all people. This behavior is the true sign that he is dignified himself.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook - Middot Harayah: Kavod 4

The more lacking one is in inner perfection, the more nature will seek to gain perfection on an outer

level. It is only in a state of low-level spirituality that there will be aroused in a person a desire to

glorify himself before others, both with the virtues he possesses and with others he does not

possess. It is therefore important for a person to enhance his level of inner perfection, and his self-

assessment in relation to others shall always be in the proper measure.

Questions for Consideration:

How do you understand “inner perfection?”

What experience do you have with the relationship between self –kavod and giving kavod to

others?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

KAVOD – DIGNITY

The following Biblical, Talmudic, medieval and modern sources explore different facets of Kavod:

SOURCE 1: THE FOLLOWING BIBLICAL, TALMUDIC AND MODERN SOURCES EXPLORE HUMAN

UNIQUENESS:

ים ויאמר דמותנו בצלמנו אדם נעשה אלה כ

God said, “Let us make the human being in our image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26)

עולם איבד כאילו עליו מעלין אחת נפש המאבד שכל ללמד בעולם יחידי אדם נבראמלא עולם קיים כאילו עליו מעלין אחת נפש המקיים וכל מלא

Humans were created unique, to teach that anyone who destroys a life it is as if one destroyed

an entire world. And anyone who sustains a life it is as if one sustained an entire world.

(Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 23a, Chapter 4, Mishna 9)

We must recognize and know that the mitzvah to imitate God is not an impossible decree …to

become different than we are; rather, this great mitzvah befits us, especially once God

has revealed this great love by informing us that we were created in God’s image. The Divinity

within us obligates us to become whom we really are in potential, whom we were created to be

- to release the potential within each of us and become people who truly reflect God's image. (A

Talk by Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt'l, the "Alter of Slobodka" (1849-1927). Translated by Rabbi Nosson

Scherman, from the Greatness Within website)

Questions for Consideration:

What does being made in the “Divine image” imply for us as humans?

How is destroying or sustaining a single life equivalent to destroying or sustaining a world? What

might be meant by “world?”

What behaviors, habits and/or practices do you do already that “reflects God’s image?”

What might you do differently if you were to intentionally “reflect God’s image?”

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SOURCE 2: MISHNEH TORAH, LAWS OF CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, 5:2, 9 (MAIMONIDES, D.

1204, EGYPT)

בחנות יאכל ולא שולחנו על בביתו אלא יאכלנו לא לו הראוי זה מעט אוכל כשהחכםהבריות בפני יתגנה שלא כדי גדול צורך מפני אלא בשוק ולא

ואסור לו שימצא בבגדו כתם או שמנוניתמלבוש תלמיד חכם מלבוש נאה ונקי

When the wise man eats the little which is fitting for him, he should eat it only in his own home,

at his table. He should not eat in a store or in the marketplace, unless there is a very pressing

need, lest he be viewed by others as lacking in self-respect…

A Torah sage's clothing should be attractive and clean. It is forbidden that [a] blood or fat [stain]

or the like be found on his garment.

Questions for Consideration:

Why would eating in a store or marketplace be seen as a sign of lack of self-respect?

How do you react to these external markers of respect and self-respect? Why do you think you

react this way?

In what external ways do you communicate self-respect?

What do you think should be the appropriate role for clothes and other externalities in the

practice of Kavod.

SOURCE 3: PIRKEI AVOT 4:3

י אל י ואל, אדם לכל בז תה יג תה לך ואין שעה לו שאין אדם לך שאין, דבר לכל מפל:מקום לו שאין דבר

He (Ben Azzai) used to say: Do not be scornful of any person and do not be disdainful of

anything, for you have no person without his hour and no thing without its place.”

Questions for Consideration:

What kinds of people or things are you prone to disregard as insignificant? Why?

Have you ever been disregarded? What happened and how did it feel?

How might you act differently if you internalized Ben Azzai’s advice?

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SOURCE 4: PIRKEI AVOT 4:18

י( יב) י, אומר שמוע בן אלעזר רב ידך כבוד יה יב תלמ חברך וכבוד, כשלך עליך חב

ם כמורא רבך ומורא, רבך כמורא :שמי

Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua said: Let the honor or your student be as dear to you as your own; the

honor of your colleague as the reverence for your teacher; and the reverence for your teacher

as the reverence of heaven.”

Questions for Consideration:

In each stage we are instructed to give honor at a level that is one step higher than expected.

What might the effect of this strategy be on the giver of honor?

What is easy and what is challenging for you about honoring your students? Your colleagues?

Your teachers?

SOURCE 5: BABYLONIAN TALMUD, TRACTATE KIDDUSHIN 31B

ת"ר ואיזהו כיבוד מאכיל ומשקה מלביש ומכסה מכניס

Our sages taught: What is Kavod [for parents]? … to feed them, give them drink, dress them,

cover them and accompany them.

Questions for Consideration:

Why do you think Kavod is defined by the Rabbis as specifically physical assistance given to aging

parents?

If you have taken care of an aging parent in this way, how was it an experience of Kavod?

What are other ways you honor your parents?

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KAVOD/DIGNITY PRACTICES

1. TORAH LEARNING: Use any of the sources not used during the va’ad. For additional background

reading you may refer to Everyday Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis “Honor”

2. FOCUS PHRASE: Suggested phrases:

Kavod is external behavior mandated by and appropriate to a reality of inner holiness.

R. Shlomo Wolbe

ד איזהו הבריות את המכבד, מכב

[Ben Zoma said]: Who is honorable? One who honors others. (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

ז תהי אל ל ב ם לכ ל מפליג תהי ואל, אד ר לכ ב ם לך שאין, ד ה לו שאין אד ע ר לך ואין ש ב שאין דקום לו :מ

He (Ben Azzai) used to say: Do not be scornful of any person and do not be disdainful of anything, for

you have no person without his hour and no thing without its place.” (Pirkei Avot 4:3)

3. KABBALOT: Choose one:

Once each day, notice yourself doing something good, or doing something well.

Once each day, notice someone else doing something good, or doing something well.

Choose one 30 minute period during the day during which you do something to honor anyone

who comes your way.

Do one thing each day that demonstrates Kavod for yourself.

4. CHESHBON HANEFESH (JOURNALING OR HITBODEDUT):

What good points did you notice in yourself or others?

Was it hard or easy to notice these points?

How did you honor others? What was it like practicing this kabbalah?

In what ways do you seek praise and recognition?

How are your efforts to seek praise and recognition rational or irrational?

5. SICHAT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA:

Schedule a weekly 20-30 minute check-in between va’ad sessions.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON KAVOD

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

The methods that we use in mindfulness meditation and yoga are oriented toward bringing awareness

to the body. So is mussar. We cultivate an inner sensitivity so that we can have more inner

spaciousness. This allows freedom, what mussar calls “bechira points” – places where the old patterns,

the limbic brain, the fight or flight or freeze reactivity – gives way to the possibility of making a wiser,

more considered, more values driven choice.

In our lives we are often absorbed in thought, filled with thoughts, worries and concerns about the past

and future. When we rest awareness in the body, the focus shifts to the present and we access another

way of seeing, knowing and relating to ourselves and ultimately each other and the world.

Kavod is a palpable sense of presence; it is receiving everyone, including ourselves, with ayin tovah –

alive with Divine, ultimate goodness. We are getting out of the way of the relentless critic and judge.

In Pirkei Avot we read: 2:15: “Rabbi Eliezer said: Yehee kevod chavercha chaviv alecha k’shelach.”

4:10 Eyzehu M’chubad? Ham’chabade et habriot.”

Can we explore the conditions of kavod in our own bodies?

There are three keys:

1. Alignment – the tallest skyscrapers and trees are only able to attain their remarkable height because

of their vertical alignment. Gravity supports structures that are balanced and aligned in this way. If

you can consciously, but effortlessly, bring the major segments of your body into a predominantly

vertical alignment, gravity will support you as well. (Is yours a posture of kavod?)

2. Relaxation. The purpose of alignment is that it helps us to relax. A body that is not aligned relies on

constant muscular tension to remain upright, for if it were to relax its tension, it would fall to the

ground. Tension blocks out awareness of sensations, so once we are able to relax, we can start to feel

the body and our formerly unfelt sensations start emerging. (Is this a pose of relaxation? Are you

greeting everything that arises with respect and honor? Not demanding it changes to suit you in this

moment.)

3. Surrendered resilience. In order to stay relaxed, the entire body must be able to maintain subtle, but

constant movement, continually expanding and contracting. Breath especially can be felt to move

through the entire body causing subtle movement to occur at every joint. If we rest the natural body

movement we will bring tension back into our bodies. Then we forfeit our relaxation, lose awareness

of sensation and yet again become lost in the involuntary story lines of the mind.

4. Try experiencing the breath not as the air coming in and out of the lungs but as the energy flow

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Hit gong or chime 3 or 4 times: listen to this outside; listen to this inside

Taking up space – inside/outside

Heavy/light – up and down

Right and left

Front and back

Where is your foot? Hand? Edge?

Inhale/exhale – where does the breath begin? Where does it end?

Sit with kavod: honoring, paying respect to, and bowing toward whatever arises in this moment. Free of

judgment or comparison; desire to make it any different.

Take this into Walking – explore kavod in walking- take a specific area. Feel body walking in space;

pressure, gravity, coolness, heat, constriction, expansion. Bring attention to each step. Sense the

presence of each step. Before walking, read Poem by Dan Bellm, which touches on the paradox of

kavod as presence, kavad as heavy:

The weight, Dan Bellm

You must prepare to carry nothing

where you walk,

a God who cannot be seen,

a name you cannot speak—

therefore gather

the most precious of what you have,

and build me something heavy you can carry,

heavy as you want.

I will be weightless in it,

an idea, a promise,

among you, within you—

I will be unbearable. You can bear it.

Over and over you will pick it up

and set it down,

and as you wander

you will lose what you brought forth,

the ark will collapse in your hands,

the stones of the law will break.

Then you will carry me in your minds,

in your mouths—

unbearable as you want. You can bear it.

After walking: kavod is a quality of attention that we bring to this moment. It is mindfulness: Non -

judging awareness of what is arising in this moment in our field of awareness.

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SHTIKAH AND SHMIRAT HALASHON SILENCE AND MINDFUL SPEECH

KEY IDEAS:

Speech creates community just as it can destroy it.

Harmful speech hurts the listener as well as the speaker.

Silence is key to developing constructive speech.

PRACTICES:

Torah Learning

Focus Phrase

Kabbalot

Cheshbon Hanefesh

Sichat Chaverim/Chevruta

1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (10-15 MINUTES):

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being. The activity shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 10–15 minutes

Va’ad 35–40 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: Shtikah-Shmirat HaLashon/ 35–40 minutes

Silence and Mindful Speech

Practice: Learning, Focus Phrase, Kabbalot, 15 minutes Cheshbon Hanefesh and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

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DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention to the

present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention before switching.

Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

listener can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

2. VA’AD (35-40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the va’ad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

the middah and practices of the past period of time.

REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

want to say during their time in the va’ad. Remind them of their Kavod practices from the last month.

SHARING (3 minutes per person – total time depends on group size.): Try to keep the va’ad sharing to

no more than 30 minutes. If the group consists of more than eight, you may want to break up into

groups of three or four to save time.

Note: The time boundary is important during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell that will alert

the speaker that time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence, but if they go on

considerably longer the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up. Maintaining the

time boundary is essential to ensuring the safety of the group.

Cross-talk is not permitted during the sharing portion of the va’ad. It is ok to say “thank you” or

something equally benign after someone speaks, although warm and accepting body language is

just as good. If a member starts to give advice or comment it is very important to interrupt and

remind the group to avoid cross talk during the va’ad so as to maintain safety. You can refer to

the guidelines.

SILENCE (1 minute): It is important to provide this quiet time to honor and process what was just

shared, before entering a discussion.

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DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This is for open discussion and sharing of observations about the middah.

Ask people to share insights or questions they have about Kavod practice. If you separated the group

into small groups, bring everyone together for the discussion.

Note: It is not the time for advice giving or seeking. If someone does give advice, direct them

back to sharing about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

for advice, redirect the question to be about the issue in general and not his or her specific case.

3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

4. LEARNING: SHTIKAH-SHMIRAT HALASHON/SILENCE AND MINDFUL SPEECH

(35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

INTRODUCTION TO SHTIKAH-SHMIRAT HALASHON (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Shtikah-

Shmirat HaLashon based on your own study of the middah. Introduce the text, e.g. provide context if it

is a Torah story or a piece from the Talmud. This curriculum provides three options for study during the

va’ad meeting.

1. Introductory Essay: A short essay about the middah, including personal stories and the author’s

interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written in a conversational tone

and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in classic Beit Midrash style

text study. The essay is also useful to get a quick overview of the middah or topic as background

for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet which includes a brief introduction to the text, the

primary sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary

sources in Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: These are short primary sources with study questions that can serve as

extensions during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study

outside of the va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very

limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

though they used different source sheets.

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CHEVRUTA (10-15 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, dyad work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the readings.

5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALOT, CHESHBON HANEFESH, AND

SICHOT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): At this point in the curriculum students have been exposed to the

full complement of practices. As the facilitator you can choose focus phrases, kabbalot or cheshbon

hanefesh points to highlight or if you feel your group is ready, have them do all the practices. Give an

example of your own experience with the chosen practice.

Solicit questions about the practice and experience from others with the practice as a form of mutual

support among the group. For example, ask the group if they have questions about using focus phrases.

If someone says they are having trouble finding an opportune time to say the phrase you can ask what

others have found helpful in terms of making time to say the phrase. Review the practice sheet

carefully with the group.

DECIDE ON A FOCUS PHRASE AND/OR KABBALAH (5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation,

each member decides on a focus phrase, personal kabbalah and or time and place for Cheshbon

Hanefesh. This could be something suggested in the practice sheet or something made up by the

participant.

CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each person shares at least one practice that they will try out this month.

Note: Have chevruta pairs set a time to meet before the next group session. They should set this

time before they leave this session.

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SHTIKAH AND SHMIRAT HALASHON/SILENCE AND MINDFUL SPEECH 1

Speech is one of the defining features of humanity. Speech is so central to our identity that the Aramaic

translation of the Torah defines the human soul as “Ruach Memalela,” “a speaking spirit.” Speech is a

source of creation and connection between people. We communicate with God through speaking our

prayers.

Speech can also be destructive: Proverbs warns us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

(18:21). The sages of the Talmud consider equate slander with murder. While Shtikah literally means

“Silence,” it implies much more in the middot literature. We will explore the aspects of this middah that

relate to thoughtful speech, Shmirat HaLashon, and how silence can assist us to maximize the life-giving

potential of this powerful tool.

SHMIRAT HALASHON/MINDFUL SPEECH

We know from experience that speech can be both painful and uplifting . You probably can easily recall

memories of words you spoke that now make you cringe, or zingers you received that still sting. On the

other hand, do you remember the many words of encouragement you’ve given to your children, to

colleagues or to friends? These words were life-giving and probably made a difference helping them get

through challenging times. Think back to words of comfort and encouragement you received that

reinforced your sense of connection and inner strength.

The stakes are high regarding how we use speech. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov encouraged his followers

to only use “Divrei Hizuk,” words of encouragement with each other in order to build each other up. He

recognized that people were vulnerable to such intense self-criticism that they could lose faith in their

ability to better themselves. It is essential we encourage each other and use positive self-talk to keep a

healthy perspective.

What are words of encouragement, Divrei Hizuk, you’ve received recently?

How did they affect you?

Shmirat HaLashon, literally “guarding the tongue,” refers to being thoughtful about how we use this

tool. Most of Torah literature focuses on the dangers of misusing speech. The great early 20th century

sage, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the Chofetz Chaim, wrote an entire book on the topic, Shmirat

HaLashon. The proliferation of written speech through texting, email and blogging may seem to reduce

the value of our words, but their impact remains. A hostile email or text is called a “flame” because they

destroy like a fire out of control. Thoughtless and intentionally harmful speech are so destructive to

relationships and communities that the rabbis equated Lashon Hara (“thoughtless, harmful speech”) to

1 The structure of this essay is loosely based on Everyday Holiness, Chapter 16, Dr. Alan Morinis

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the three major sins: idol worship, murder and incest (Maimonides, Hilchot De’ot/ Laws of Character

Development 7:4).

The victim of slander obviously suffers from this harmful speech. Rabbi Moshe Isserles in the Shulchan

Aruch, a major Jewish legal code, exempts victims of Lashon Hara from the general obligation to forgive

wrongdoing when the perpetrator sincerely apologizes. We know how damaging slander can be to

one’s reputation, and how hard it is to rebuild it once it is sullied by harmful speech. This is why Lashon

Hara is likened to feathers in a pillow. A rabbi once told a slanderer to cut open a feather pillow and

scatter the feathers in the wind. The next day he told him that he would only be forgiven for his Lashon

Hara after he gathered all the feathers. This oft-cited story captures the difficulty in repairing the harm

such speech can inflict.

Our rabbis also underscore the damage Lashon Hara causes to the speaker, by including those who

speak Lashon Hara among those with whom the Shechinah (indwelling presence of God) does not dwell.

Shechinah is related to the word שכן, neighbor; the root נ.כ.ש. means “to dwell.” When we harm

others through speech, we dull ourselves to spiritual experience. While mocking speech might be an

attempt to draw some people close, as it often is with young people, in fact it makes others wary and

destroys trust. We literally make it difficult to “dwell” together as neighbors when we speak Lashon

Hara. At the same time, if God desires closeness between people, we also desensitize ourselves to

experiences of God and make it more difficult to “receive” such experiences.

Questions for Consideration:

Think of a time you spoke Lashon Hara. What impact did it have on your relationship with others

and with God?

Lashon Hara also impacts the listener. Maimonides (Laws of Character Development) emphasizes this

point:

האומרו, והמקבלו, וזה שאומרין -ועוד אמרו חכמים, שלושה לשון הרע הורגת עליו; והמקבלו, יותר מן האומרו:

Lashon Hara kills three people: The speaker, the listener and the subject of the harmful

speech. The listener suffers more than the speaker.

Why would the listener suffer more than the speaker? The speaker already possesses information or

invents something about the subject of his Lashon Hara. Perhaps the harm to the listener is greater

because that person now has to integrate new, painful information about someone. When I hear

something negative or titillating about another, it is almost impossible not to associate that information

with the person forever, even if not true. The way I think about this person is impacted forever. If the

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listener does not protest or stop the speaker from saying Lashon Hara, the listener is now implicated in

the wrongdoing.

Questions for Consideration:

Why do you think the listener suffers more than the speaker from hearing Lashon Hara?

What has it been like for you to hear Lashon Hara? What was it like to try to stop it?

THE IMPORTANCE OF DELIBERATION/MINDFULNESS

Deliberation is the key to mindful speech, especially when you feel emotionally triggered. In the regular

banter of a relaxed conversation it may make sense not to be overly cautious about what you say. The

interpersonal warmth and connection that comes from such banter has value in and of itself. However,

the stakes are high when we feel triggered in any way. This is when we might be vulnerable to using

speech to bring ourselves Kavod by disparaging another, lashing out because we feel hurt, or using

speech in myriad destructive ways. In such situations we want to heed Rabbi Menachem Mendel

Leffin’s direction in his chapter on Shtikah/Silence:

Before you open your mouth, be silent and reflect: “What benefit will my speech bring me or

others”

Cheshbon Hanefesh/Soul Accounting

THE ROLE OF SILENCE IN CULTIVATING MINDFUL SPEECH

Jewish gatherings and practices tend to be quite verbal. Our prayers are full of words, even our silent

prayer! But Jewish tradition also values silence and stillness. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “All my

days I grew up amidst the sages and I never found anything as beneficial as silence” (Pirkei Avot 1:17).

And Rabbi Akiva, the greatest sage of his generation, described silence as “a fence for wisdom” (Pirkei

Avot 3:13).

While Rabbi Akiva teaches that silence preserves wisdom that already exists, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel

goes even further. He was surrounded by great wisdom, but he needed something more – perhaps for

him, silence provided the inner space to make sense of and integrate the wisdom he had heard. Silence

also gives us access to inner wisdom within.

Silence provides a container of inner space to make meaning of our lives and evaluate our actions.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter considered silence so important that he would undertake a speech fast, a “Ta’anit

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Dibur” during the Ten Day of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. By not speaking, he

heightened his sensitivity to how he used speech throughout the year. Mindful silence heightens our

spiritual sensitivity. Dr. Alan Morinis captures the power of silence beautifully in Everyday Holiness

(p.144): “Yet the soul needs silence as the body needs sleep. Sleep to refresh; silence to cleanse. Sleep

to dream; silence to awaken to the deeply real. The Talmud points to this in saying, ‘There is no better

medicine than silence.’” (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 18a)

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe describes keeping us busy as the Yetzer Hara’s main strategy. In running from one

activity to the next, we struggle to maintain our awareness in the present. The Yetzer Hara thrives in

such an environment of unreflective living. Setting aside even few minutes each day for silent

contemplation is essential for cultivating Hitlamdut, greater awareness of self and others, and

recognizing Bechirah points as they arise in our communications with others.

There are many techniques for quiet contemplation, including following the breath, visualization, focus

phrases, or speaking to God. These all require setting aside time for contemplation, finding space to

settle into deeper connection with ourselves, God and others. As we grow in our ability to slow down,

we have a better opportunity to catch ourselves and choose our words more wisely.

Question for Consideration:

What time do you make for contemplative reflection, even if not a formal practice?

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LEARN THE SOURCES

SHTIKAH AND SHMIRAT HALASHON/SILENCE AND MINDFUL SPEECH

Speech is one of the defining features of humanity. So central to our identity is speech that the Aramaic

translation of the Torah defines the human soul as “Ruach Memalela,” “A speaking spirit.” Speech is a

source of creation and connection between people. We communicate with God through speaking our

prayers.

Speech can also be destructive. Proverbs warns us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

(18:21). So serious do the sages of the Talmud consider harmful speech that they equate slander with

murder. While Shtikah literally means “Silence” it implies much more in the middot literature. We will

explore the aspects of this middah that relate to mindful speech, Shmirat HaLashon and how silence can

assist us to maximize the life-giving potential of this powerful tool.

SHMIRAT HALASHON/MINDFUL SPEECH

Babylonian Talmud Sota 42a

א"ר ירמיה בר אבא, ארבע כיתות אין מקבלות פני שכינה: כת ליצים, וכת חניפים, וכת שקרים, וכת מספרי לשון הרע. כת ליצים, דכתיב: +הושע ז+

משך ידו את לוצצים; כת חניפים, דכתיב: +איוב יג+ כי לא לפניו חנף יבא; כת +תהלים קא+ דובר שקרים לא יכון לנגד עיני; כת מספרי שקרים, דכתי':

לשון הרע, דכתיב: +תהלים ה+ כי לא אל חפץ רשע אתה לא יגורך רע

Rabbi Yirmiyah bar Abba said: There are four types of people that do not experience [lit.

receive] the face of the Shechinah: Scorners, flatterers, liars and those of speak Lashon

Hara…Those who speak Lashon Hara, as it is written: (Psalms 5:5-10) “You are not a God

who desires wickedness, Rah will not dwell with You…for there is no sincerity in their

mouths; in their heart is malice; their throat is an open grave….”

Questions for Consideration:

Think of a time you spoke Lashon Hara How did it impact your relationship with others and with

God/your spiritual state?

How did it distance you from others and from God (or the Shechinah – the felt presence of the

Divine)?

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Mishneh Torah, Laws of Character Development 7:3, Maimonides (d. 1204, Egypt)

האומרו, והמקבלו, וזה שאומרין -ועוד אמרו חכמים, שלושה לשון הרע הורגת עליו; והמקבלו, יותר מן האומרו:

The Sages said: Lashon Hara kills three people: The speaker, the listener and the subject

of the harmful speech. The listener suffers more than the speaker.

Questions for Consideration:

In your experience how does Lashon Hara “kill” people?

Why do you think the listener suffers more than the speaker from hearing Lashon Hara?

What has it been like for you to hear Lashon Hara? What was it like to try to stop it?

THE ROLE OF SILENCE IN CULTIVATING MINDFUL SPEECH

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, the scion of the leading family of his day, said (Pirkei Avot 1:17)

י לגוף טוב את צ ים, ולא מ מ י בין החכ דלת מי ג ל י יאל, כ ן גמל מעון ב ן ש אמר רבה יק לא שת א

All my days I grew up amidst the sages and I never found anything as beneficial as

silence

Rabbi Akiva, the greatest sage of his generation also praised silence, saying (Pirkei Avot 3:13)

ה כמ ג לח ה -סי יק שתSilence is a fence for wisdom

Questions for Consideration:

What do you think Rabbi Shimon Gamliel meant by saying, “I have not found anything better for

the body than silence? What might the relationship be between silence and the body?

What does it mean that something is a “fence for wisdom?”

How has silence increased your wisdom?

What time do you make for contemplative reflection, even if not a regular practice?

What impact might having more silence in your life have on your use of speech?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

SHTIKAH AND SHMIRAT HALASHON/SILENCE AND MINDFUL SPEECH

SOURCE 1: LAWS OF CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT 7:3, MAIMONIDES (D. 1204, EGYPT)

נפרעין מן האדם בעולם הזה ואין לו חלק לעולם אמרו חכמים שלש עבירות הבא עבודת כוכבים וגילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים ולשון הרע כנגד כולם

The Sages teach (Babylonian Talmud Arachin 16a) that there are three transgressions

about which a person suffers consequences in this world and for which he loses his

portion in the world to come: Idol worship, incest and murder. And Lashon Hara is

equal to them all.

The “World to Come” is a world of pure spirituality. When the rabbis of the Talmud want to express

that something is very bad, they tell us that it causes one to lose his portion in the world to come. Idol

worship, incest and murder are the “big three” of Jewish law. These are the three transgressions that

are so bad that in some cases one should die rather than transgress them. It is to these that the rabbis

compare Lashon Hara.

Questions for Consideration:

What are some of the consequences, “in this world,” one experiences by speaking Lashon Hara?

How is speaking Lashon Hara damaging to one’s spirituality?

What do you think is so bad about Lashon Hara that the rabbis would compare it to the worst

possible actions like murder and incest?

SOURCE 2: ORCHOT TZADDIKIM/THE WAYS OF THE RIGHTEOUS (ANONYMOUS, 16TH CENTURY)

The 16th century Mussar classic, Orchot Tzaddikim/The Ways of the Righteous, divides the types of

speech into five categories:

The first, a mitzvah; the second, to be shunned; the third, petty; the fourth, beloved; the fifth,

permissible. A mitzvah – speaking of Torah and awe of Heaven; to be shunned – false

testimony, indecent speech, and slander; petty – speech containing neither transgression nor

benefit, as most of the worlds’ talk, such as speaking of what has already been done and the

customs of kings and other such things of the affairs of the world; beloved – speech in praise of

good deeds and in deprecation of evil deeds, … permissible – speech of trade for one’s

livelihood, and of clothing, food and drink and one’s other needs, but one who minimizes his

speech even in this area is to be praised…

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That the rabbis create so many categories of speech indicates they want us to bring our full attention

and power of choice in our use of language. Are the words I am about to say going to encourage or beat

down, give useful information or add verbal clutter, increase connection or create distance?

Questions for Consideration:

Think about conversations you’ve had or texts/emails you’ve written today. Which of the

Orchot Tzaddikim’s categories did you employ?

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SHTIKAH AND SHMIRAT HALASHON/SILENCE AND MINDFUL SPEECH PRACTICES

1. TORAH LEARNING: Sources in the curriculum; Everyday Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis, “Silence”

2. FOCUS PHRASE: Suggested phrases:

ים ביד לשון ת וחי ו מ

Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:2)

ג ה סי כמ ה -לח יק שת

Silence is a fence for wisdom (Pirkei Avot 3:13)

3. KABBALOT:

Set a fixed time every day (perhaps 20 minutes) to focus your attention on your use of speech. During

this time, try to notice thoughts arising which may lead to saying something negative about someone.

Try to pause and notice, without judging, the thoughts in your mind, the emotions you are experiencing,

and the sensations in your body. Remember to pause and breathe. Mindfully choose to remain silent,

or investigate choosing something positive to say about this person, in order to practice “Lashon Tov.” A

communal meal or a meeting might be a good opportunity to try this practice.

Dedicate, or rededicate yourself to a contemplative practice every day during our work on this middah.

Choose a reasonable amount of time that will fit into your schedule.

4. CHESHBON HANEFESH (JOURNALING OR HITBODEDUT):

Keep a daily record of insights and experiences you have with this Shtikah-Shmirat HaLashon practice.

You can respond to the following prompts if useful:

What was it like to hear Lashon Hara today (verbally or in print)?

How would your life change if you really knew “Death and life are in the power of the tongue?”

How does a certain amount of silent time impact your day?

5. SICHAT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA:

Set up a 30 minute period of time to meet with your partner as least once between meetings.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON SHMIRAT HALASHON

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

Elohai Netzor Leshoni MayRa We are going to use the letters of the aleph bet as objects of our meditation along with the breath. This is a practice to help us settle the mind and see more clearly so that we can chose our words with greater care. May our words heal rather than to hurt. May they be useful and truthful and filled with wisdom. Please, take your seat for meditation. Allow your spine to be erect and your face, shoulders and heart to be soft. Allow your belly to be soft and relaxed. Settle into your body. Notice sensations and sounds. Allow the thoughts to pass like clouds in the open sky. Now connect to your breath – wherever it is easiest for you – throat, nostrils, back of throat, belly, chest, whole body breathing. On the next full breath visualize the letter aleph in your mind and softly say the word aleph to yourself, on the second breath visualize the letter bet and softly silently note to yourself bet, on the third breath, visualize gimel and softly note gimel. Then repeat again and again the sequence of aleph, bet, gimel. Each letter receives a full breath (inhale and exhale). Try to allow the breath to come naturally. Bring your attention to the breath and add the visualization of the letter and the soft note. Try this for a while. If you get distracted and forget your place, be kind and gentle. Return to the aleph. (2-3 minutes) If this is very easy you might try going all the way to zayin in the same manner. Aleph – one inhale and exhale, bet – one full breath, gimel – one breath, dalet – one breath, hay – one breath, vav – one breath, zayin – one breath and return to aleph for another cycle. Include the visualization of the letter and the soft note. (2 minutes) If you have a lot of time and energy you might try the entire aleph – bet, aleph through tav. Bell

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BITACHON/TRUST IN GOD

KEY IDEAS:

Right living involves balancing our efforts to influence with acceptance that some things are out

of our control.

Bitachon is perspective of confidence.

Each of us needs to find the right amount of Bitachon for ourselves.

PRACTICES:

Torah Learning

Focus Phrase

Kabbalot

Cheshbon Hanefesh

Sichat Chaverim/Chevruta

1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (10-15 MINUTES)

Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being.

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 10–15 minutes

Va’ad 35–40 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: Bitachon/Trust 35–40 minutes

Practice: Learning, Focus Phrase, Kabbalot, 15 minutes Cheshbon Hanefesh and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

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DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention to the

present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention before switching.

Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

listener can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

2. VA’AD (35-40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the va’ad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

the middah and practices of the past period of time.

REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

want to say during their time in the va’ad. Remind them of the Shtikah practices from last month.

SHARING (3 minutes per person – total time depends on group size.): Try to keep the va’ad sharing to

no more than 30 minutes. If the group consists of more than eight, you may want to break up into

groups of three or four to save time.

Note: The time boundary is important during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell that will alert

the speaker that time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence, but if they go on

considerably longer the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up. Maintaining the

time boundary is essential to ensuring the safety of the group.

Cross-talk is not permitted during the sharing portion of the va’ad. It is ok to say “thank you” or

something equally benign after someone speaks, although warm and accepting body language is

just as good. If a member starts to give advice or comment it is very important to interrupt and

remind the group to avoid cross talk during the va’ad so as to maintain safety. You can refer to

the guidelines.

SILENCE (1 minute): It is important to provide this quiet time to honor and process what was just

shared, before entering a discussion.

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DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This is for open discussion and sharing of observations about the middah.

Ask people to share insights or questions they have about Shtikah practices. If you separated the group

into small groups, bring everyone together for the discussion.

Note: It is not the time for advice giving or seeking. If someone does give advice, direct them

back to sharing about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

for advice, redirect the question to be about the issue in general and not his or her specific case.

3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

4. LEARNING: BITACHON/TRUST (35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

INTRODUCTION TO BITACHON (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Bitachon based on your own

study of the middah. Introduce the text, e.g. provide context if it is a Torah story or a piece from the

Talmud. This curriculum provides three options for study during the va’ad meeting.

1. Introductory Essay: A short essay about the middah, including personal stories and the author’s

interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written in a conversational tone

and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in classic Beit Midrash style

text study. The essay is also useful to get a quick overview of the middah or topic as background

for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet which includes a brief introduction to the text, the

primary sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary

sources in Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: These are short primary sources with study questions that can serve as

extensions during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study

outside of the va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very

limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

though they used different source sheets.

CHEVRUTA (10-15 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

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answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, dyad work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the readings.

5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALOT, CHESHBON HANEFESH, AND

SICHOT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): At this point in the curriculum students have been exposed to the

full complement of practices. As the facilitator you can choose focus phrases, kabbalot or cheshbon

hanefesh points to highlight or if you feel your group is ready, have them do all the practices. Give an

example of your own experience with the chosen practice.

Solicit questions about the practice and experience from others with the practice as a form of mutual

support among the group. For example, ask the group if they have questions about using focus phrases.

If someone says they are having trouble finding an opportune time to say the phrase you can ask what

others have found helpful in terms of making time to say the phrase. Review the practice sheet carefully

with the group.

DECIDE ON A FOCUS PHRASE AND/OR KABBALAH (5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation,

each member decides on a focus phrase, personal kabbalah and or time and place for Cheshbon

Hanefesh. This could be something suggested in the practice sheet or something made up by the

participant.

CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each person shares at least one practice that they will try out this month.

Note: Have chevruta pairs set a time to meet before the next group session. They should set

this time before they leave this session.

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BITACHON/TRUST IN GOD

Bitachon may be one of the most difficult Middot to acquire. The Hebrew root for Bitachon is .ב.ט.ח

(B.T.Ch.) which means to be at ease, to trust and to be confident. In modern Hebrew Bitachon also

means security (the Misrad HaBitachon is the Defense Ministry or Bituach Leumi is the National

Insurance system). In classic Jewish literature, the ultimate source of this sense of security is God.

There are compelling reasons why Bitachon is so challenging. For post-moderns, whose belief in an all-

powerful, all-knowing and loving deity has been severely weakened by over two centuries of rationalist,

scientific thinking and horrific violence and suffering of two world wars, to simply rely on God to take

care of you rings hollow. How can I trust a God who allowed Auschwitz to happen? There is not much

stronger a challenge to the idea that we can rely on God than that. However, post-Holocaust

generations were not the first to struggle with Bitachon. Bitachon was also a challenge in Biblical times

when Jewish society more readily accepted the idea of an all-powerful God.

Bitachon does not require absolute trust in an omnipotent God. As with all middot, there is a continuum

and we each can locate our own souls on the continuum. Some move through life with an unshakeable

belief in God’s goodness and protection. Others are much more anxious. Neither extreme is necessarily

good. Cultivating Bitachon means moving towards balancing trust in a loving God or a reliable Universe

with taking initiative. You never have to believe something you actually don’t believe to grow in

Bitachon. We will start with a very practical issue, our livelihood.

BITACHON AND MAKING A LIVING, THE MANNA TEST

Just days after the Israelites crossed the Reed Sea , God tests them to see if they have internalized the

faith they professed at the sea. God provides manna, but only allows the people to take exactly what

they need for that day, and not save any for the next. If they do save it, it rots. (Exodus 16:4-20).

Why did God choose food as the object of this test? Food symbolizes our livelihood, our parnasah.

Providing for our own material well-being and that of our family has always been a core source of

anxiety. Will we have enough to eat? The fear of scarcity awakened by this question is closely

connected to the Yetzer Hara. An overly developed feeling of scarcity can lead to greed, violence and

the worst aspects of human behavior.

The manna test was very carefully crafted. God could have just given every household the amount of

manna it needed to fulfill is daily nutritional requirements. Rather, they needed to work for their food

by collecting the manna from the field. This requirement echoes the curse given to Adam in the Garden

of Eden, “Cursed be the ground because of you; By toil shall you eat of it…By the sweat of your brow

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shall you get bread to eat…” (Genesis 3:17-19). Part of being human is that we need to work for our

food.

But this raises another challenge. We take pride in our labor and ability to support ourselves. The

Torah warns us not to say, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for

me.” (Deuteronomy 8:17) The Torah calls upon us to do something quite counterintuitive and perhaps

paradoxical: to use our capability to earn a livelihood (symbolized by collecting the manna while

recognizing that something beyond ourselves helped us earn our livelihood (symbolized by the need to

trust that more food will be there tomorrow). Thus, we don’t get to do whatever we want with it

(symbolized by the need to not hoard the leftover manna). Tzedakah is one of the mitzvot intended to

instill this consciousness within us. While we earn money through our effort, we recognize that a

portion of those earnings actually belong to the needy.

This is the middah of Bitachon. It calls on us to be powerful actors in the world, and employ what is

called Hishtadlut, human effort. At the same time it calls on us to know that we are not ultimately in

control.

Questions for Consideration:

Where are you on the continuum of trust and control?

In what ways do try to control things too much? What is the impact on yourself and others?

In what ways do you take too much credit for your successes or failures?

Are there any areas of your life where you think you have too much trust and could use taking

more initiative?

BITACHON AS A SOURCE OF RENEWAL AND LIFE

צב להם בארות ב ח ים ל י ם ח י קור מ בו מ י עז י את מ ם רעות עשה ע י ת י ש ארת כם מי לו ה ים אשר לא יכ בר ש נ

Two evils have My people committed: they have forsaken Me, a freshwater spring

(Makor Mayyim Hayyim) , to hew themselves cisterns (Borot), cracked cisterns that can

hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13

A freshwater spring’s water flows out of its source, whereas the water in a cistern is collected from

somewhere else. It is separated from its source. Jeremiah relates Trust to water in another famous

passage:

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וה יסור לבו: ר יבטח באדם ושם בשר זרעו ומן יה ר אש ב וה ארור הג כה אמר יהה כי יבוא טוב ץ מלחה ולא והיה כערער בערבה ולא ירא ר ושכן חררים במדבר א

תשב:וה מבטחו: וה והיה יה ר יבטח ביה ר אש ב ברוך הג

ה\והיה כעץ שתול על מים ועל יובל ישלח שרשיו ולא ירא { כי יבא חם \}ירארי:והיה עלהו רע ת לא ידאג ולא ימיש מעשות פ ר נן ובשנת בצ

Cursed is the person who trusts solely in people and makes his flesh his source of

strength and turns away from God. He will be like a tree in the desert and will not see

when good comes. He will inhabit the parched places of the desert, a salty, uninhabited

land. Blessed is the person who trusts in God, and whose hope God is. For he shall be

like a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall

not see when the heat comes, but its leaf shall be green; and shall not be anxious in the

year of drought, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17:17-18

Water is the source of well-being. A tree with its roots by the water is always connected to this source

or life and vitality. Bad things may happen like a drought or heat, but because of this connection to its

source of life the tree keeps creating and producing fruit. This is how Jeremiah describes a person who

has Bitachon. Having Bitachon doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen; there will be famine and

drought. The person with Bitachon will not get confused by suffering but will be able to stay life-

affirming and generative for themselves and others.

Jeremiah uses such rich metaphors. Spend some time unpacking these metaphors, specifically:

How does this metaphor of a tree by water compare with our first metaphor of the spring and

cistern?

In what ways do these metaphors relate to how you think about trust in your own life?

Both the metaphors seem to have to do with rejuvenation and renewal. What are your sources

of renewal and do these relate to trust in any way?

BITACHON AS A PERSPECTIVE OF CONFIDENCE, DUTIES OF THE HEART, R. BAHYA IBN PEQUDA

(11TH CENTURY, SPAIN)

Rabbi Zvi Miller, the translator of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter’s Ohr Yisrael(19th century, Europe), claims that

Tikkun HaMiddot helps us build “bullet-proof” self-esteem. In Modern Hebrew “Bitachon Atzmi” is the

term for self-confidence. This makes sense given our last series of texts. If you are connected to your

source of inner-renewal and vitality you will feel confident in the face of challenges.

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This type of confidence was so important to Rabbi Yosef Yuzel Horowitz, the founder of the Novardak

school of Mussar (19th-20th centuries, Lithuania), that he would give his students drastic challenges so

they could grow in Bitachon. One student was afraid of the dark. Rabbi Yosef Yuzel instructed him to

spend the night in the cemetery saying psalms. Another student was afraid of being humiliated. To him,

the rabbi gave the challenge of going into a bakery and asking for nails and into a hardware store and

asking for bread. The point of both these challenges was to condition the students to have Bitachon and

realize that nothing harmful would happen to them if they faced their fears. The students of Novardak

went on to found over 100 yeshivot throughout Eastern Europe, withstanding tremendous opposition

and threats from Russian authorities.

The very first practice in the Shulchan Aruch, the 16th century Code of Jewish Law, is to cultivate the holy

boldness needed to live as a religious Jew. To live according to a set of principles that are at times

countercultural takes an inner conviction and confidence.

Questions for Consideration:

In what kinds of situations do you get the most timid?

When do you have the most confidence?

Where do you fall on a timidity-confidence continuum, and what is one thing you could do to

become more confident?

What would you have to face if you were going to be less timid with your congregation, family,

or colleagues?

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LEARN THE SOURCES

BITACHON/TRUST IN GOD

Bitachon may be one of the most difficult middot to acquire. The Hebrew root for Bitachon is ט.ח.ב.

(B.T.Ch.), meaningto be at ease, to trust and to be confident. In modern Hebrew the word Bitachon also

means security and thus the Misrad HaBitachon is the Defense Ministry or Bituach Leumi is the National

Insurance system. In classic Jewish literature the ultimate source of this sense of security is God.

There are compelling reasons why Bitachon is so challenging. For Moderns, whose belief in an all-

powerful, all-knowing and loving deity has been severely weakened by over two centuries of rationalist,

scientific thinking and horrific violence and suffering of two world wars, to simply rely on God to take

care of you rings hollow. How can I trust a God who allowed Auschwitz to happen? There is not much

stronger a challenge to the idea that we can rely on God than that. However, our post-Holocaust

generations were not the first to struggle with Bitachon. Bitachon was also a challenge in Biblical times

when Jewish society more readily accepted the idea of an all-powerful God.

Bitachon as a middah does not require that we have absolute trust in an omnipotent God. Like with all

middot, there is a continuum and we each get to locate our own souls on the continuum. Some people

move through life with an unshakeable belief in God’s goodness and protection. Others are much more

anxious and worry fills their days. Neither extreme is necessarily good. Wherever you are on this

continuum, working on Bitachon means moving towards balancing trust in a loving God or a good

Universe with taking initiative. You never have to believe something you actually don’t believe to grow

in Bitachon. We will start with a very practical issue, our livelihood.

BITACHON AND MAKING A LIVING, THE MANNA TEST: EXODUS 16:4, 16-20

Just days after the Israelites crossed the Reed Sea accompanied by ample Divine pyrotechnics God gives

them a test to see if they internalized the faith they professed at the sea.

ם מן השמים ו ח ם ל ה הנני ממטיר לכ ל מש וה א ר יה יצא העם ולקטו דבר ויאמנו הילך בתורתי אם לא: יום ביומו למען אנס

Then said God to Moses:, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will follow my Torah, or no….

ר לגלגלת מספר נו איש לפי אכלו עמ וה לקטו ממ ר צוה יה ה הדבר אש ז

ר באהלו תקחו ם איש לאש נפשתיכה והממעיטויעשו כן בני ישראל וילקטו המרב

חסיר איש לפי אכלו לקטו ה והממעיט לא ה עדיף המרב ר ולא ה וימדו בעמ

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ר נו עד בק ם איש אל יותר ממ ה אלה ר מש ויאמר ויר נו עד בק ה ויותרו אנשים ממ ל מש ם תולעים ויבאש ויקצף ולא שמעו א

ה ם מש עלהMoses said to them…This is the thing which God has commanded, Gather of it every

man according to his eating, an ‘omer for every man, according to the number of your

persons shall you take it, every man for them who are in his tent. And the children of

Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. And when they did measured it with

an ‘omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no

lack;… Moshe said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. But they hearkened not to

Moshe; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank…

In the Manna test people needed to work for their food. This requirement echoes the curse given to

Adam in the Garden of Eden:

ר צויתיך לאמר לא תאכל ך ותאכל מן העץ אש ולאדם אמר כי שמעת לקול אשתיך:... נה כל ימי חי ך בעצבון תאכל נו ארורה האדמה בעבור ממ

ם עד שובך א ח יך תאכל ל ל בזעת אפ נה לקחת כי עפר אתה וא ל האדמה כי ממעפר תשוב:

Cursed be the ground because of you; By toil shall you eat of it…By the sweat of your

brow shall you get bread to eat… Genesis 3:17-19

Once we need to work for our living, how can we avoid the trap pointed to in the following verse from

Deuteronomy 8:17:

ה: ת החיל הז ם ידי עשה לי א ך כחי ועצ ואמרת בלבב

My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.

Deuteronomy 8:17

The 11th century Mussar classic Duties of the Heart by Rabbi Bahya Ibn Pequda describes this challenge:

…Since Divine wisdom demands the trial of the soul with service of Hashem or rebellion,

Hashem tries the soul with what will reveal its choice in the matter, namely, with the

need and want for that which is external to it – food, drink, clothing, shelter, and sexual

relations. Hashem commanded human beings to seek and obtain these requirements

through the available means, in specific ways, and at certain times (meaning we need to

work to attain livelihood-ed.).

What the Creator decrees a person should attain of them, the person realizes and

attains through ample means which are provided. What the Creator does not decree

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should be attained of them, the person does not attain, and the means are withheld

(this is when we need to have trust and not think everything is in our control-ed.). The

person’s service or transgression is demonstrated through his or her intent on – and

choice of- one to the exclusion of the other (meaning whether one will serve Hashem or

rebel-ed.)…

Questions for Consideration:

Where are you on the continuum of trust and control?

In what ways do try to control things too much? What is the impact on yourself and others?

In what ways do you take too much credit for your successes or failures?

Are there any areas of your life where you think you have too much trust and could use taking

more initiative?

BITACHON AS A SOURCE OF RENEWAL AND LIFE, JEREMIAH 2:13

ם בארות בארת כי שתים רעות עשה ב לה עמי אתי עזבו מקור מים חיים לחצ

ר לא יכלו המים נשברים אש

Two evils have My people committed: they have forsaken Me, a freshwater spring

(m’kor mayyim chayyim) , to hew themselves cisterns (b’orot), cracked cisterns that can

hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13

A freshwater spring’s water flows out of its source, whereas the water in a cistern is collected from

somewhere else. It is separated from its source. Jeremiah relates Trust to water in another famous

passage:

וה יסור לבו: ר יבטח באדם ושם בשר זרעו ומן יה ר אש ב וה ארור הג כה אמר יהץ מלחה ) ר ה כי יבוא טוב ושכן חררים במדבר א והיה כערער בערבה ולא ירא

ולא תשב:וה מבטחו:ברוך וה והיה יה ר יבטח ביה ר אש ב הג

ה\והיה כעץ שתול על מים ועל יובל ישלח שרשיו ולא ירא { כי יבא חם \}ירארי: ת לא ידאג ולא ימיש מעשות פ ר והיה עלהו רענן ובשנת בצ

Cursed is the person who trusts solely in people and makes his flesh his source of

strength and turns away from God. He will be like a tree in the desert and will not see

when good comes. He will inhabit the parched places of the desert, a salty, uninhabited

land. Blessed is the person who trusts in God, and whose hope God is. For he shall be

like a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall

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not see when the heat comes, but its leaf shall be green; and shall not be anxious in the

year of drought, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17:17-18

Jeremiah uses such rich metaphors. Spend some time unpacking these metaphors, specifically:

How does this metaphor of a tree by water compare with our first metaphor of the spring and

cistern?

In what ways do these metaphors relate to how you think about trust in your own life?

Both the metaphors seem to have to do with rejuvenation and renewal. What are your sources

of renewal and do these relate to trust in any way?

BITACHON AS A PERSPECTIVE OF CONFIDENCE, DUTIES OF THE HEART, R. BAHYA IBN PEQUDA

(11TH CENTURY, SPAIN)

The following source from Duties of the Heart explains how Bitachon helps one live a life of conviction

and principle. The middah of Bitachon helps us do what we know is right because we don’t base our

self-worth or sense of security on whether we are liked by others. This can be an incredibly valuable

soul trait for combatting injustice.

Another advantage of this trust is that it has the following effect: One who trusts in God will not submit

to another; she will not set her hopes on any person or put her trust in human beings. She will not be

subservient to them in order to win their favor, nor will she flatter them. She will not agree with them

in what is not the service of God. Their ways will not frighten her, and she will not be afraid to oppose

them. She will divest herself of the finery of their favors and free herself from the burden of expressing

gratitude to them and the obligation of repaying them. When reproving them, she will not shrink from

offending them; if she humiliates them, she will not be timid before them or adorn what is false. As the

prophet said:

ה ואדני י יעזר יהו ל ל ן ע י לא כ ת למ כ ל נ ן ע יש כ ת יש פני מ למ ח ע כ ד י וא בוש לא כ :א

But God, Hashem, helps me; therefore, I was not humiliated; therefore, I have set my

face like a flint, and I know that I will not be timid. Isaiah 50:7

Questions for Consideration:

In what kinds of situations do you get the most timid?

When do you have the most confidence?

Where are you on a timidity-confidence continuum and what is one thing you could do to

become more confident? If you think you are overly confident, what is one thing you could do to

have a more balanced sense of confidence?

What would you have to face if you were going to be less timid with your congregation, family,

or colleagues?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

BITACHON – TRUST IN GOD

SOURCE 1: BITACHON IN RELATIONSHIPS, DUTIES OF THE HEART, THE GATE OF TRUST, RABBI

BAHYA IBN PEQUDA (D. 11TH CENTURY, SPAIN)

This source discusses people helping each other. It is broken up into three sections with reflection

questions after each section. In preparation for the text, think of examples from your own life of when

you needed someone to do something for you, or you were asked to do something. These examples can

be with people from work, family, or other relationships.

…When the need arises to ask for something from someone…, she should rely on God for it, and regard

the people as the means of securing it, just as one tills the soil and sows it as a means to her livelihood.

If God wishes to support her from it, the crops grow, thrive and flourish, and no thanks are due the land

for this, only the Creator. If God does not wish to support her from it, the land yields no produce, or it

yields produce which suffers damage, and the land is not to blame…

If it is carried out by one of them, she should thank the Creator who fulfilled her wishes, and also thank

the one through whom it was carried out for his goodwill, and for being the agent of the Creator’s aid…

If her request is not carried out for her by any of them, she should not blame them or attribute to them

negligence, but she should thank God for having chosen what was for her good. She should also thank

them, in accordance with what she knows of their efforts to fulfill her request, even though it was not

carried out as she – and they- had wished.

She should also conduct herself this way in her relations with intimates and friends, business associates,

employees and partners.

Like the other sources we’ve seen from Duties of the Heart, R. Bahya describes a level of Bitachon that is

most likely unfamiliar to many of us moderns. Try to stretch and imagine what impact this type of

Bitachon might have on your relationships.

Questions for Consideration:

What impact do think this approach would have on interpersonal relationships? Why?

What do you think this approach does to personal responsibility and accountability?

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DUTIES OF THE HEART (CONT.)

Similarly, when asked by someone… [to do] something, he should try to do it with all his heart and focus

his mind on carrying it out, provided that he is able and that the one who asked him is worthy of the

effort. Then he should put his trust in God for its accomplishment.

Questions for Consideration:

The above section seems to describe the balance of Hishtadlut (effort) and Bitachon.

Why do you think it matters if the person is “worthy of the effort?”

DUTIES OF THE HEART (CONT.)

If God brings it about through his agency, and uses him as the instrument for benefiting his fellowman,

he should offer thanks for this privilege. But if, after going through much trouble and effort, he is

prevented from doing so and is unable to fulfill his neighbor’s request, he should not blame himself, and

should inform his friend that he tried his best.

Questions for Consideration:

How close or far are you from this type of attitude in your own life?

How do think this approach would enhance or detract from your spiritual and ethical growth?

SOURCE 2: BITACHON, BIRTH AND CREATIVITY, ADVICE, REBBE NACHMAN OF BRESLOV (D.

1810, UKRAINE)

ההשפעות נמשכין בטחוני הדור הם בחינת כלי ההולדה. כי כל ההולדות וכל על ידי בטחון. וזה זוכין על ידי ששומעין ספורי מעשיות מצדיקים אמתיים שיש להם כח לעורר מהשנה על ידי ספורי מעשיות שלהם, שעל ידי זה יוצא הדבור בכח גדול. שאותן שהיו בבחינת שנה שהיו כאלמים ממש ולא היו

משנתם ומתחילים יכולים לדבר כלל שום דבור שבקדושה, נתעוררין עכשולדבר בכח גדול, ועל ידי הדבור נתחזק הבטחון ועל ידי זה נפקדין העקרות

וזוכין ליראה.

The trustful ones of the generation reflect aspects of reproduction. For all birth, and all

spiritual influences are drawn into the world through Bitachon. This [birth] is merited by

hearing stories told by the truly righteous who have the ability to awaken others from

sleep through their stories. Through this awakening, full-throated speech emerges. For,

those who were asleep were like mutes and could not speak any words of holiness.

Once they awaken they begin to speak with much strength. Through this speech

Bitachon is strengthened, which leads to birth and awe.

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In this cryptic passage Rebbe Nachman describes a circular process in which those with Bitachon can

awaken others from spiritual sleep, empowering them to speak words of holiness. In turn, these words

of holiness strengthen the Bitachon of themselves and others and lead to more creativity (birth) and

awe.

Questions for Consideration:

In your own experience, how is Bitachon related to birth or creativity?

What is like for you to experience spiritual sleepiness and how have you been awoken in the

past?

In your experience what is the relationship between speech, particularly holy speech, and

Bitachon?

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BITACHON/TRUST IN GOD PRACTICES

1. TORAH LEARNING: Use any of the sources not used during the va’ad. For additional background

reading you may refer to Everyday Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis “Trust”

2. FOCUS PHRASE:

Write a phrase on an index card and repeat it for several minutes at the beginning of your day to focus

your attention on this middah throughout the day. These phrases can come from our reading or you can

make them up. Below is one suggestion:

ב וה מבטחו:ברוך הג וה והיה יה ר יבטח ביה ר אשה\והיה כעץ שתול על מים ועל יובל ישלח שרשיו ולא ירא { כי יבא חם \}ירא

רי: ת לא ידאג ולא ימיש מעשות פ ר והיה עלהו רענן ובשנת בצ

Blessed is the person who trusts in the God, and whose hope God is. For he shall be like

a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not

see when the heat comes, but its leaf shall be green; and shall not be anxious in the year

of drought, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

3. KABBALOT:

Choose one effort you are making during the day. Assess whether you are approaching this effort

out of trust or despair.

Choose a short period during the day (10 minutes to an hour) in which you hold fast to a perspective of

Bitachon. Notice what feelings and thoughts come up. If this is easy for you, expand the amount of time.

At one point each day – it could be a moment of decision or a moment when you need to confront

something – act as if you trust in God.

Choose one effort you make each day -- this can be writing a sermon, creating a program, helping a

family member, etc. and notice how God or other factors were involved in your success with this effort.

4. CHESHBON HANEFESH (JOURNALING OR HITBODEDUT):

Keep a daily record of insights and experiences you have with this Bitachon practice. You can respond to

the following prompts if useful:

What are some things that give you a sense of renewal and rejuvenation?

What enabled you to stay connected to that which gives you renewal and what made it difficult to

keep this connection?

What fears or worries do you need to let go of to be more free?

5. SICHAT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA:

Set up a 30 minute period of time to meet with your partner as least once between meetings.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON BITACHON

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

Take a seat.

Allow your spine to be erect like the trunk of a tree.

Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth and press up to lift your tree trunk toward heaven.

Relax your tongue and feel the lift upwards in your spine.

Now allow your hips to be heavy and relaxed.

Allow them to spread gently on your seat.

Imagine your roots are reaching down and out, into a clear and fresh river, a deep source of endless

water – a source that is ever-present, ever- giving. Pause.

Notice your breath at the area of your heart.

Breathing from the heart, slowly say the following phrases silently to yourself.

MAY I FEEL SAFE

MAY I FEEL CONTENT

MAY I FEEL AT EASE

Use a full cycle of breath for each phrase.

Realize you are simply practicing offering this wish for this moment.

While saying each phrase, allow yourself to feel the bodily sensation expressing the experience of the

words.

Imagine your body filled with the qualities that you are putting into words.

This is an intention, which may or may not be realized but plants seeds for these qualities associated

with Bitachon.

MAY I FEEL SAFE

MAY I FEEL CONTENT

MAY I FEEL AT EASE

Continue for as long as you like repeating these phrases.

You may wish to change the pronoun to "you" or "he/she" and exchange a beloved friend, teacher,

mentor for yourself in the blessing.

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EMUNAH/TRUSTWORTHINESS

KEY IDEAS:

A basic level of faith/Emunah is needed to function in our roles as leaders, parents and students.

It is in the small, mundane daily transactions that we demonstrate our Emunah/Trustworthiness

A leader’s trustworthiness/Emunah creates the conditions for other community members to

thrive.

PRACTICES:

Torah Learning

Focus Phrase

Kabbalot

Cheshbon Hanefesh

Sichat Chaverim/Chevruta

1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (10-15 MINUTES)

Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being.

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 10–15 minutes

Va’ad 35–40 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: Emunah/Trustworthiness 35–40 minutes

Practice: Learning, Focus Phrase, Kabbalot, 15 minutes Cheshbon Hanefesh and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

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DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention to the

present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention before switching.

Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

listener can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

2. VA’AD (35-40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the va’ad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

the middah and practices of the past period of time.

REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

want to say during their time in the va’ad. Remind them of the Bitachon practices from last month.

SHARING (3 minutes per person – total time depends on group size.): Try to keep the va’ad sharing to

no more than 30 minutes. If the group consists of more than eight, you may want to break up into

groups of three or four to save time.

Note: The time boundary is important during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell that will alert

the speaker that time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence, but if they go on

considerably longer the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up. Maintaining the

time boundary is essential to ensuring the safety of the group.

Cross-talk is not permitted during the sharing portion of the va’ad. It is ok to say “thank you” or

something equally benign after someone speaks, although warm and accepting body language is

just as good. If a member starts to give advice or comment it is very important to interrupt and

remind the group to avoid cross talk during the va’ad so as to maintain safety. You can refer to

the guidelines.

SILENCE (1 minute): It is important to provide this quiet time to honor and process what was just

shared, before entering a discussion.

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DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This is for open discussion and sharing of observations about the middah.

Ask people to share insights or questions they have about Bitachon practices. If you separated the group

into small groups, bring everyone together for the discussion.

Note: It is not the time for advice giving or seeking. If someone does give advice, direct them

back to sharing about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

for advice, redirect the question to be about the issue in general and not his or her specific case.

3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

4. LEARNING: EMUNAH/TRUSTWORTHINESS (35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

INTRODUCTION TO EMUNAH (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Emunah based on your own

study of the middah. Introduce the text, e.g. provide context if it is a Torah story or a piece from the

Talmud. This curriculum provides three options for study during the va’ad meeting.

1. Introductory Essay: A short essay about the middah, including personal stories and the author’s

interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written in a conversational tone

and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in classic Beit Midrash style

text study. The essay is also useful to get a quick overview of the middah or topic as background

for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet which includes a brief introduction to the text, the

primary sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary

sources in Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: These are short primary sources with study questions that can serve as

extensions during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study

outside of the va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very

limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

though they used different source sheets.

CHEVRUTA (10-15 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

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answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, dyad work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the readings.

5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALOT, CHESHBON HANEFESH, AND

SICHOT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): At this point in the curriculum students have been exposed to the

full complement of practices. As the facilitator you can choose focus phrases, kabbalot or cheshbon

hanefesh points to highlight or if you feel your group is ready, have them do all the practices. Give an

example of your own experience with the chosen practice.

Solicit questions about the practice and experience from others with the practice as a form of mutual

support among the group. For example, ask the group if they have questions about using focus phrases.

If someone says they are having trouble finding an opportune time to say the phrase you can ask what

others have found helpful in terms of making time to say the phrase. Review the practice sheet carefully

with the group.

DECIDE ON A FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALAH, AND/OR TIME AND PLACE FOR CHESHBON HANEFESH

(5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation, each member decides on a focus phrase, personal

kabbalah and or time and place for Cheshbon Hanefesh. This could be something suggested in the

practice sheet or something made up by the participant.

CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each person shares at least one practice that they will try out this month.

Note: Have chevruta pairs set a time to meet before the next group session. They should set

this time before they leave this session.

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EMUNAH/TRUSTWORTHINESS1

While Emunah is usually translated as faith, in this unit we focus on its related meaning –

Trustworthiness. Emunah shares a Hebrew root with Oman, an artisan. An artisan is someone who can

be trusted, or relied upon to produce a quality product. Emunah is that quality of reliability that we

engender in others through our sustained honesty and consideration. A person or institution that acts

with Emunah/trustworthiness is one in which you can have faith.

EMUNAH AS FUNDAMENTAL TO LIFE, BABYLONIAN TALMUD SHABBAT 31A AND TOSAFOT

The prophet Isaiah(33:6) describes some of the good attributes of the Jewish people as follows:

“Faithfulness to Your charge was [her] wealth, wisdom and devotion [her] triumph, reverence for God –

that was her treasure.” The word used for “Faithfulness” is “Emunah.” The rabbis of the Talmud relate

each phrase in Isaiah’s passage to one of the six sections of the Mishnah, the 3rd century encyclopedia

of Jewish legal theory.

The word ‘faithfulness/Emunah’ in the verse refers to the section of Mishnah, “Seeds”, that

deals with agriculture. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a)

The 13th century Talmud commentators, Tosafot, want to understand the relationship between the term

Emunah and agriculture:

The farmer who sows seeds places his faith in the Life Giver of All the Worlds, for he trusts that

God will provide all that is needed for his crops to grow.

If the farmer didn’t trust at some level that the seeds would grow in the ground s/he would probably not

go to the effort to hoe and plow and do all the work needed to produce crops. Community building and

education is very much the same – rabbis and educators invest a tremendous amount of energy creating

community, preparing classes, and giving of themselves to people of all ages based on a trust that

people can connect, learn and grow. Without this basic trust, the work of community building and

education would feel too hard since the results are not immediate.

Question for Consideration:

What do you need to rely on, or have trust in, to function well in your work, in your community

or at home?

1 Many of the ideas about Emunah in this session are adapted from Bridging the Gap, pgs. 408-424, Rabbi Avi

Fertig

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EMUNAH IN RELATIONSHIPS, BABYLONIAN TALMUD SHABBAT 31A

Communities, organizations and societies are built on trust. How do people know if they can trust one

another? It is tempting to think that a dramatic gesture, for example, saving someone from a fire, or

from getting hit by a car, would build trust. Such heroic actions generate gratitude, but trust comes

from the many daily, small transactions done repeatedly over time. Trust is built by minor transactions,

like being on time for an appointment or meeting deadlines, being done reliably over time. The Talmud

explicitly describes this type of trustworthiness as one of our most goals in life:

Rava said: After death, when a person is brought to account for his life, [The first thing the

Heavenly tribunal] says to him is: Did you conduct your business in a trustworthy way (Nasata

v’natata b’emunah)? - Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a

The other items on Rava’s list include setting aside fixed times to study Torah, engaging in raising the

next generation and hoping for salvation. These seem like much more spiritual and exalted activities

than buying and selling. This is Rava’s point: the quality of our character is determined more by how we

manage the daily temptations of cutting corners and cheating in our dealings with other people, than by

our lofty aspirations in ultimate matters like salvation. “Business” here connotes more than profit-

making. The Hebrew “Masah U’Matan” refers as well to any give and take or any negotiation, from

whose turn is it to make dinner to organizing a mitzvah day at the synagogue.

Questions for Consideration:

What type of transactions do we do in a synagogue or family environment that relies on Emunah

– transacting in a trustworthy manner?

In what ways are you challenged transacting with trustworthiness?

CREATING SOLID GROUND, NUMBERS 12:7 AND COMMENTARY

When describing the difference between Aaron and Miriam and their brother Moses, God describes the

greatest prophet as “Ne’eman,” “trustworthy.” In trying to explain the meaning of trustworthiness, the

12th century commentator, Rashbam, employs a potent metaphor based on a verse from Isaiah:

Not so My servant Moses; he is trusted (Ne’eman) throughout My household. Numbers 12:7

Ne’eman [in the above verse] means steadfast and rooted every moment of the day. As the

verse in Isaiah 22:23 says: “I will affix him as a peg in a secure place – B’makom Ne’eman.” The

peg stuck in strong ground will not easily fall. Rashbam’s commentary on the Book of

Numbers

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To be trustworthy/Ne’eman is to be “strong ground” that can hold a tent peg secure. Strong ground

does not mean ground that is completely solid. A tent peg requires dirt that is flexible and slightly

loosened to be able to enter, and not completely dry so it will grip the peg. Let your mind explore this

metaphor to see what is at stake in developing this middah of Emunah/trustworthiness, especially for

people who lead others.

Questions for Consideration:

In what ways are your synagogue, workplace or family impacted by the degree to which

individuals are Ne’eman – rooted and steadfast?

In what ways are leaders and parents responsible for creating “strong ground?” How does this

relate to building trust?

What are some ways you do and don’t create a Makom Ne’eman, a secure place, for your

community, co-workers or family members? How do you know?

What is one thing you could do to create this “strong ground” for the people you work, pray,

and/or live with?

THE ROOT OF EMUNAH

Most Hebrew words are based on a three letter root system. The root contains important information

about the meaning of the word. Thus, Emunah אמונה is based on the root A. M. N. ן.מ.א. Alef –

Mem – Nun.

There is an element of Emunah that means being faithful to what you know, carrying out in action that

which you know is right.

Alef - א represents thought, beginnings (it is the first letter) and new ideas. It is pronounced silently.

Mem – מ – represents action. Mem is the 14th letter of the Hebrew alphabet and in Hebrew letter

numerology is equal to the word Yad hand [Yad = Yud (10) + Dalet (4) = 14]. The hands are the tools of

the physical world and they bring thought, represented by the Yud, into the physical world.

Nun – ן – is related to faithfulness Emunah. When Nun is the last letter in a word it is extended

downward longer than the other letters and is called a final Nun, Nun sofit. The Nun sofit represents

remaining faithful to an idea and extending the idea regularly into the word.

Question for Consideration:

How do these three elements – thought, action and remaining faithful to an idea – connect to

trustworthiness in your synagogue, work or home life?

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LEARN THE SOURCES

EMUNAH/TRUSTWORTHINESS

While Emunah is usually translated as faith, in this session we focus on its related meaning –

Trustworthiness. Emunah shares a Hebrew root with Oman, an artisan. An artisan is someone who can

be trusted, or relied upon to produce a quality product. Emunah is that quality of reliability that we

engender in others through our sustained honesty and consideration. A person or institution that acts

with Emunah/trustworthiness is one in which you can have faith.

EMUNAH AS FUNDAMENTAL TO LIFE, BABYLONIAN TALMUD SHABBAT 31A AND TOSAFOT

The prophet Isaiah(33:6) describes some of the good attributes of the Jewish people as follows:

יך אמונת והיה ן עת :אוצרו היא יהוה יראת ודעת חכמת ישועת חס

And he shall be the stability of your times, a store of salvation, wisdom and knowledge;

the fear of the Lord is his treasure.

The word used for “stability” is “Emunah.” Stability can be understood as a manifestation of

trustworthiness. Trustworthiness adds to stability. The rabbis of the Talmud relate each phrase in

Isaiah’s passage to one of the six sections of the Mishnah, the 3rd century encyclopedia of Jewish legal

theory.

אמונת זה סדר זרעים עתיך זה סדר מועד חסן זה סדר נשים ישועות זה סדר נזיקין חכמת זה סדר קדשים ודעת זה סדר טהרות

“Emunah” refers to the section of Mishnah, “Seeds”, that deals with agriculture. “Your

times/Eitecha” refers to the section of Mishnah dealing with the holidays.

“Store/Chosen” to the section of the Mishnah dealing with issues of marriage and

divorce. “Salvation/Yeshu’ot” to the section of the Mishnah dealing with civil law.

“Wisdom/Chochmah” to the section of the Mishnah dealing with the Temple and

sacrifices. “Knowledge/Da’at” to the section of the Mishnah dealing with ritual purity.

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a

The 13th century Talmud commentators, Tosafot, want to understand the relationship between the term

“Emunah” and agriculture:

מפרש בירושלמי שמאמין בחי העולמים וזורע: -אמונת זה סדר זרעים

The Jerusalem Talmud explains that [the farmer who sows seeds] places his faith in the

Life Giver of the Worlds.

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Questions for Consideration:

In what exactly is the farmer relying on from God?

Why do you think Tosafot and the Jerusalem Talmud use the term “Life Giver of the worlds” as a

name for God here?

What do you need to rely on, or have trust in, to function well in your work, in your community

or at home?

EMUNAH IN RELATIONSHIPS, TALMUD BAVLI SHABBAT 31A

The Talmudic passage continues with the following account of a person going before the heavenly

tribunal:

שעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו נשאת ונתת באמונה אמר רבא ב

Rava said: After death, when a person is brought to account for his life, [The first thing

the Heavenly tribunal] says to him is: Did you conduct your business in a trustworthy

way (nasata v’natata b’emunah)?

Questions for Consideration:

What type of transactions do we do in a synagogue or family environment that rely on Emunah

– transacting in a trustworthy manner?

In what ways are you challenged transacting with trustworthiness?

CREATING SOLID GROUND, NUMBERS 12:7 AND COMMENTARY

When describing the difference between Aaron and Miriam and their brother Moses, God describes the

greatest prophet as “Ne’eman,” “Trustworthy.” In trying to explain the meaning of trustworthiness, the

12th century commentator, Rashbam, employs a potent metaphor based on a verse from Isaiah. See

the verse and comment below:

אמן הוא ה בכל ביתי נ לא כן עבדי מש

Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted (Ne’eman) throughout My household”

Numbers 12:7

קבוע ומיוסד כל שעה ביום. וכמוהו ותקעתיו יתד במקום נאמן. -ן הוא נאמיתד התקוע במקום חזק אינו ממהר ליפול:

Ne’eman [in the above verse] means steadfast and rooted every moment of the day. As

the verse in Isaiah 22:23 says: “I will affix him as a peg in a secure place – B’makom

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Ne’eman.” The peg stuck in strong ground will not easily fall. Rashbam’s commentary

on the Book of Numbers

Questions for Consideration:

In what ways are your synagogue, workplace or family impacted by the degree to which

individuals are Ne’eman – rooted and steadfast?

In what ways are leaders and parents responsible for creating “strong ground?” How does this

relate to building trust?

What are some ways you do and don’t create a Makom Ne’eman, a secure place, for your

community, co-workers or family members? How do you know?

What is one thing you could do to create this “strong ground” for the people you work, pray,

and/or live with?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

EMUNAH – TRUSTWORTHINESS

SOURCE 1: BABYLONIAN TALMUD SHABBAT 31A

Below is the full passage about the questions asked at the heavenly tribunal. As a reminder, we also

include the passage from Isaiah 33:6 and the passage about the orders of the Mishnah:

ן ישו יך חס עת חכמת ודעת יראת יהוה היא אוצרו:והיה אמונת עת

And he shall be the stability of your times, a store of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear

of the Lord is his treasure. Isaiah 33:6

סדר נזיקין אמונת זה סדר זרעים עתיך זה סדר מועד חסן זה סדר נשים ישועות זה חכמת זה סדר קדשים ודעת זה סדר טהרות

“Emunah” refers to the section of Mishnah, “Seeds”, that deals with agriculture. “Your

times/Eitecha” refers to the section of Mishnah dealing with the holidays.

“Store/Chosen” to the section of the Mishnah dealing with issues of marriage and

divorce. “Salvation/Yeshu’ot” to the section of the Mishnah dealing with civil law.

“Wisdom/Chochmah” to the section of the Mishnah dealing with the Temple and

sacrifices. “Knowledge/Da’at” to the section of the Mishnah dealing with ritual purity.

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a

אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו נשאת ונתת באמונה קבעת עתים לתורה עסקת בפריה ורביה צפית לישועה פלפלת בחכמה הבנת דבר

מתוך דבר

Rava said: After death, when a person is brought to account for his life, [The first thing

the Heavenly tribunal] says to him is: Did you conduct your business in a trustworthy

way (nasata v’natata b’emunah)? [They then ask] Did you fix times for regular Torah

study? Did you engage in child rearing? Did you anticipate salvation? Did you apply your

mind to seek wisdom? Did you use your mind to infer one thing from another?

- Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a

Questions for Consideration:

Why do you think trustworthiness and stability come first in Isaiah’s quote, in the Mishnah and

in the Talmudic passage about the heavenly tribunal?

If you were going to make a list of question that a person should be ask at the end of life, how

might they be different then the questions from the Talmud?

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SOURCE 2: NUMBERS 12:1-7

Below is a fuller version of the passage regarding Moses as a trustworthy servant that we saw in the

source sheet used in the Va’ad.

ר לקח כי אשה כשית ות ה על אדות האשה הכשית אש דבר מרים ואהרן במשלקח

ר יהוה הלא גם בנו דבר וישמע יהוה ה דב ויאמרו הרק אך במשר על פ ה ענו מאד מכל האדם אש ני האדמהוהאיש מש

ל מועד ל אה ם א ל מרים צאו שלשתכ ל אהרן וא ה וא ל מש ר יהוה פתאם א ויאמויצאו שלשתם

ם ל ויקרא אהרן ומרים ויצאו שניה תח האה ד יהוה בעמוד ענן ויעמד פ וירר תודע בחלום אדב ם יהוה במראה אליו א ר שמעו נא דברי אם יהיה נביאכ ויאמ

בו אמן הוא ה בכל ביתי נ לא כן עבדי מש

נת יהוה יביט ה ולא בחידת ותמ ר בו ומרא ה אדב ל פ ה א ם פ ומדוע לא יראתה: לדבר בעבדי במש

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married:

“he married a Cushite woman!” They said, “Has God spoken only through Moses? Has

God not spoken through us as well?” God heard it. Now Moses was a very humble man,

more so than any other man on earth. Suddenly God called to Moses, Aaron, and

Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” So the three of them went out.

God came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out,

“Aaron and Miriam! The two of them came forward;

God said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of God arises among you, I make

Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant

Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth,

plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of God. How then did you not

shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!”

Questions for Consideration:

What do you think is the connection between Moses’ humility and his trustworthiness?

What connection might there be between Moses’ trustworthiness and the way God speaks with

him?

In your own experience how are humility and trustworthiness connected?

What types of people do you speak with most openly?

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How do you encourage your congregants, colleagues and students to speak with you openly?

EMUNAH/TRUSTWORTHINESS PRACTICES

1. TORAH LEARNING:

The Jewish Moral Virtues: Emunah, Eugene M. Borowitz and Francis Weinman Schwartz

2. FOCUS PHRASE:

Write a phrase on an index card and repeat it for several minutes at the beginning of your day to focus

your attention on this middah throughout the day. These phrases can come from our reading or you can

make them up. Below are suggestions:

Nasati v’natati b’emunah? Have I been faithful in my transactions with others?

Emunah is trusting in the world, being worthy of the trust of others, and being firmly rooted and

steadfast

3. KABBALAH:

Each day do one at least one thing (promptly replying to an email, following through on a small

commitment, arriving on time, etc.) that will reinforce another’s trust in you.

4. CHESHBON HANEFESH (JOURNALING OR HITBODEDUT):

Keep a daily record of insights and experiences you have with this practice. You can respond to the

following prompts if useful:

What are two or three things you’ve noticed about the trust you have to have to live your life?

What is something you or someone else has done to increase trustworthiness? To decrease?

In what ways do you feel someone who leads you creates secure ground? Doesn’t create secure

ground?

How do you create secure ground for the people in your life?

5. SICHAT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA:

Set up a 30 minute period of time to meet with your partner as least once between meetings.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON EMUNAH

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

Emunah -- trustworthiness -- To know oneself as steady in the midst of change. We settle in our seat. Feel your bottom rooting into the earth B'makom Ne’eman Like a peg in a secure place. Feel settled and steady. Pause Now, bring your attention to micro movements, Sight pulsations and shifts in your belly, Your thighs or calves, Your feet and toes. Notice pressure, expansion and contraction, or tingling for example. The earth is not completely dry, It is flexible and loose to allow the peg to enter. Feel the steadiness and the movement. Pause Become aware of the movement of breath in the body. Make an intention to count each breath until you reach five breaths. Inhale followed by exhale equals one breath. Let the breath be natural. When you reach five breaths, begin again, counting five breaths. Keep going. Five breaths followed by five breaths... If you lose count, begin the count from "one." Pause Notice what happens. Are you trustworthy? Are you reliable In your counting? Is there an impulse in another direction? Are you honest? Just notice.

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SEDER/ORDER

KEY IDEAS:

Seder is a middah that helps us manifest our other middot.

It is possible to have too much, as well as too little Seder.

PRACTICES:

Torah Learning

Focus Phrase

Kabbalot

Cheshbon Hanefesh

Sichat Chaverim/Chevruta

1. CONTEMPLATIVE OPENING (10-15 MINUTES)

Help people make the transition to the spiritual space of the group through the following two activities,

in whatever order makes most sense for your group. Depending on time, you can do one or both:

OPENING MEDITATION/READING/NIGGUN (5 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to help people

open the affective, spiritual part of their being.

DYAD/CHECK-IN (6 minutes): The purpose of the check-in is to direct each person’s attention to the

present. Each member of the pair gets two-three minutes of uninterrupted attention before switching.

SESSION SCHEDULE

Contemplative Opening 10–15 minutes

Va’ad 35–40 minutes

Break 5 minutes

Learning: Seder/Order 35–40 minutes

Practice: Learning, Focus Phrase, Kabbalot, 15 minutes Cheshbon Hanefesh and Sichot Chaverim/Chevruta

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Good points: The first speaker says something positive about his or her day or week. It can be

something as small as enjoying a meal.

Getting attention: The first speaker then gets the full attention of his or her partner for the remainder

of the two or three minutes. She can use this attention any way she wants. She can talk about

something troubling from the day; she can sit in silence; she can think through something on her mind.

The attention of the listener will help the speaker clear her mind and be present for the group. The

listener can ask questions as appropriate.

After the set amount of time, the speaker and listener switch roles.

2. VA’AD (35-40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the va’ad is to provide group attention and accountability for each member regarding

the middah and practices of the past period of time.

REVIEW (3-5 minutes): Allow some time for people to review their journals and think about what they

want to say during their time in the va’ad. Remind them of the Emunah practices from last month.

SHARING (3 minutes per person – total time depends on group size.): Try to keep the va’ad sharing to

no more than 30 minutes. If the group consists of more than eight, you may want to break up into

groups of three or four to save time.

Note: The time boundary is important during the sharing. Have a timer with a bell that will alert

the speaker that time is up. People can finish their thought or sentence, but if they go on

considerably longer the facilitator needs to remind them that their time is up. Maintaining the

time boundary is essential to ensuring the safety of the group.

Cross-talk is not permitted during the sharing portion of the va’ad. It is ok to say “thank you” or

something equally benign after someone speaks, although warm and accepting body language is

just as good. If a member starts to give advice or comment it is very important to interrupt and

remind the group to avoid cross talk during the va’ad so as to maintain safety. You can refer to

the guidelines.

SILENCE (1 minute): It is important to provide this quiet time to honor and process what was just

shared, before entering a discussion.

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DISCUSSION (10 minutes): This is for open discussion and sharing of observations about the middah.

Ask people to share insights or questions they have about Emunah practices. If you separated the group

into small groups, bring everyone together for the discussion.

Note: It is not the time for advice giving or seeking. If someone does give advice, direct them

back to sharing about their own experience of what was said or about the issue. If someone asks

for advice, redirect the question to be about the issue in general and not his or her specific case.

3. BREAK (5 MINUTES)

4. LEARNING: SEDER/ORDER (35–40 MINUTES)

The purpose of the learning is to explore the Jewish/Torah perspective on the middah or practice.

INTRODUCTION TO SEDER (3 minutes): Share a few thoughts about Seder based on your own study of

the middah. Introduce the text, e.g. provide context if it is a Torah story or a piece from the Talmud. This

curriculum provides three options for study during the va’ad meeting.

1. Introductory Essay: A short essay about the middah, including personal stories and the author’s

interpretations of classical sources and reflection questions. It is written in a conversational tone

and is especially useful for those students who are not interested in classic Beit Midrash style

text study. The essay is also useful to get a quick overview of the middah or topic as background

for leading the va’ad.

2. Learn the Sources: A classic text study sheet which includes a brief introduction to the text, the

primary sources, and reflection questions. This is for students who want to work with primary

sources in Hebrew or English and enjoy working to discover meaning in the sources.

3. For Further Study: These are short primary sources with study questions that can serve as

extensions during the va’ad for people who finish early, can be used for chevruta text study

outside of the va’ad, or can be substituted for the “Learn the Sources” text if time is very

limited.

Use your discretion as to which sources are best to use with your group. You can give students a choice

of the Introductory Essay or Learn the Sources; it is ok for group members to study different texts. These

materials cover similar ideas so students can regroup and discuss the middah or topic together even

though they used different source sheets.

CHEVRUTA (10-15 minutes): In pairs, have the group learn the text and answer the questions. If

everyone is learning from a text sheet you may want to read the text together as a full group and

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answer any clarification questions before sending the group to chevruta. You may also choose to stay

together as a group to learn the material. Please note that groups work best when there are a variety of

modalities including full group discussion, dyad work and individual contemplation.

DISCUSSION (10 minutes): Discuss the main points in the readings.

5. PRACTICE: LEARNING, FOCUS PHRASE, KABBALOT, CHESHBON HANEFESH, AND

SICHOT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA (15 MINUTES)

REVIEW THE PRACTICES (5 minutes): At this point in the curriculum students have been exposed to the

full complement of practices. As the facilitator you can choose focus phrases, kabbalot or cheshbon

hanefesh points to highlight or if you feel your group is ready, have them do all the practices. Give an

example of your own experience with the chosen practice.

Solicit questions about the practice and experience from others with the practice as a form of mutual

support among the group. For example, ask the group if they have questions about using focus phrases.

If someone says they are having trouble finding an opportune time to say the phrase you can ask what

others have found helpful in terms of making time to say the phrase. Review the practice sheet carefully

with the group.

DECIDE ON A FOCUS PHRASE AND/OR KABBALAH (5 minutes): In pairs or in silent contemplation,

each member decides on a focus phrase, personal kabbalah and or time and place for Cheshbon

Hanefesh. This could be something suggested in the practice sheet or something made up by the

participant.

CLOSING CIRCLE (5 minutes): Each person shares at least one practice that they will try out this month.

Note: Have chevruta pairs set a time to meet before the next group session. They should set

this time before they leave this session.

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SEDER/ORDER

Were you ever sitting at your desk at work and an email or call came in from a colleague asking where

you are for the meeting? Oops, that meeting never made it into your calendar. Do you find yourself

cursing out the cars backed up at the light in front of you because you are running late for a meeting or

class? Do you get frustrated with other people when they are late or cannot find their keys or wallet?

Maybe you are that person who can’t find his keys or wallet. Does your mind wander to work when you

are playing with your children and to your family or finances when you are at work or trying to meditate

or pray? A common denominator in all these situations is the middah of Seder.

Seder literally means “Order.” The word is widely known by even the most marginally connected Jews

because of the Passover Seder, a fitting name for such a highly-structured ritual meal. Structure seems

to be a key part of this middah, Seder. What is the necessity of structure? The Mussar master, Rabbi

Simcha Zissel of Kelm, compared Seder to the clasp on a pearl necklace.

Picture a pearl necklace with a small clasp. Which is more essential – the clasp or the pearls? At

first glance the pearls are more essential. But, without the clasp all the pearls would scatter and

all that would be left is the chain – thus the clasp seems more essential. A person is like a

collection of pearls – he is full of potential, talents, character traits and virtues. Seder is similar

to the clasp on the necklace. Without Seder all his virtues and talents scatter and he is left

empty. 1

Like many in the so called “helping professions,” I value relationships, conversations and spiritual

moments more than I do keeping my calendar, paying bills, following up on meetings with memos and

organizing prayer services. However, when I don’t keep up with my calendar I miss or am late to

appointments which can eventually erode trust and possibly destroy the relationships I so value. The

relationship is the pearl and the calendar is the clasp on the necklace that holds all these great things

together.

I know others who tend more towards structure and operations. Balance is important. Too much Seder

can make someone rigid and inflexible, while too little, leads to chaos and disorganization. A necklace

with a huge clasp would be pretty ugly and with none wouldn’t hold together. Just enough Seder and no

more is just right.

1 The quote is actually from Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe explaining R. Simcha Zissel’s anaglogy. See Aley Shor II, section 2,

Seder.

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Seder is not just an issue of time management. We can have Seder for our things as well as our

thoughts. The early 19th century Mussar classic, Cheshbon HaNefesh2, describes Seder as an issue of

awareness and attention. Each chapter in this handbook for middot development starts with an

affirmation. This is what the text says regarding Seder:

All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and at a

set time. Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you.

How do we “free” our thoughts? Through mindfulness practice, we try to bring our attention repeatedly

back to the present moment. Seder refers to a presence of mind, an ability to focus on the person or

issue in front of us. When our minds are jumbled with all the errands and responsibilities we need to

take care of the next day it is very hard to be present.

For some people, to do lists help clear their minds. Making a list of priorities and scheduling them in at

the beginning of the week (Seder in action) gives me Yishuv Da’at, a calm mind. I know when I will get to

tasks which might otherwise pull at my attention. Consequently, I can bring my full attention to the

person I am with, or what I am doing, moment by moment. This is Seder in thought.

Seder is closely related to Ratzon, desire or will. Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes, “Seder testifies to Ratzon

and true Ratzon must be expressed through Seder.” One way to work on Seder is to engage our Ratzon.

What are your own priorities? Get as clear as possible about this in any particular area and it will be

easier to apply Seder. Think about something you wanted very badly. Didn’t you organize yourself and

others to achieve it? If we cannot seem to get organized, we may be lacking organizational skills and

resources -- or we may just not actually desire whatever it is we are struggling over.

One time I practiced Seder by just noticing the order I did in fact have in my life. I noticed that I pray

three times a day. That is a type of Seder that told me I prioritize my relationship with God. Try this out

and you will notice that sometimes you are in fact prioritizing your Ratzon and other times you are filling

your life with things you do not really care about.

As we work on Seder it is important to remember not to do too much. A common rabbinic saying goes,

“One who grabs a lot cannot hold on to it while one who grabs a little holds on to it.” We live in a

society of hyper-achievement, consumption and overwork. It is easy to have too many meetings, too

many plans. How many parents spend all weekend, and many weeknights driving their children to

multiple extra-curricular activities? It is possible to do a lot and have Seder, but stuffing too many things

into our lives is the work of the Yetzer Hara. There is a great Yiddish saying, “With one tuchos you try to

2 Sefer Cheshbon HaNefesh by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin. Cheshbon HaNefesh literally means “Soul

Accounting,” and refers to the practice of reflecting on one’s inner life and moral character. This book brought the idea of working on 13 middot/character traits in a rotation into the Jewish community.

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sit in ten chairs.” Seder challenges us to decide what we really care about, make hard decisions and live

with presence of mind.

Questions for Consideration:

In your own life, what are the pearls and what is the clasp?

How is the quality of your attention lately? Do you find yourself distracted at work, with your

children, talking to a friend?

Think about one area of your life - how does the Seder in that area of your life testify to your

level of Ratzon, the extent to which that area is a real priority for you?

In what ways do you try to grab too much?

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LEARN THE SOURCES

SEDER/ORDER

THE CLASP ON THE PEARL NECKLACE, RABBI SIMCHA ZISSEL OF KELM

Picture a pearl necklace with a small clasp. Which is more essential – the clasp or the pearls? At

first glance the pearls are more essential. But, without the clasp all the pearls would scatter and

all that would be left is the chain – thus the clasp seems more essential. A person is like a

collection of pearls – he is full of potential, talents, character traits and virtues. Seder is similar

to the clasp on the necklace. Without Seder all his virtues and talents scatter and he is left

empty. 3

Questions for Consideration:

What do you think of this metaphor?

Where does it makes sense to you and where does it break down?

In your own life, what are the pearls and what is the clasp?

How do you balance the pearls and clasp in any particular area of your life?

Seder is aided or challenged by other middot. What are some other middot that contribute or

take away from your ability to live with Seder?

SEDER AND A FREE MIND, CHESHBON HANEFESH, RABBI MENACHEM MENDEL LEFFIN

Seder is not just an issue of getting our time and things organized. For many people Seder can impact

the quality of our attention and focus4. The early 19th century Mussar classic, Cheshbon HaNefesh5,

relates Seder to awareness and attention. Each chapter in this handbook for middot development starts

with an affirmation. For Seder, it says:

All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and at a

set time. Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you.

3 The quote is actually from Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe explaining R. Simcha Zissel’s anaglogy. See Aley Shor II, section 2,

Seder. 4 As a parent of a child with ADHD I understand that Seder can look different for different people. Seder does not

always mean a clean desk. However, being able to prioritize and order one’s things and time is important for all people. 5 Sefer Cheshbon HaNefesh by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin. Cheshbon HaNefesh literally means “Soul

Accounting” and refers to the practice of reflecting on one’s inner life and moral character. This book brought the idea of working on 13 middot/character traits in a rotation into the Jewish community.

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Questions for Consideration:

How is the quality of your attention lately?

Do you find yourself distracted at work, with your children, talking to a friend?

In what ways might Seder be impacting the quality of your attention?

SEDER AND RATZON, RABBI SHLOMO WOLBE (D. 2005, ISRAEL)

The order in the larger universe testifies to the wisdom of the Creator, as it is written, “God

founded the earth with wisdom, set the heavens with understanding and broke open the depths

with knowing.” (Proverbs 3:19-20). Similarly in our own personal lives: to set up a seder/order

in our own lives that will last we need to use wisdom, understanding and knowing. We need to

ask ourselves, “What is it that I really want to achieve in my work or my spiritual practice?”

When this is clear to us we then ask, “What can I do now, given my resources, to move forward

toward achieving this goal?” We need to be very thoughtful about these two questions. It is

crucial not to ask too much of ourselves, but we should also not ask to little. Our seder/order

must include enough sleep, food and other essentials…

The first step in this practice is to meditate on the question, “What do I want?” Then we need

to ask, “What can I do now give my resources to achieve this?” From this one can build a daily

and weekly seder/order. The main principle is: Seder testifies to Ratzon and true ratzon must be

expressed through seder.”

Question for Consideration:

Think about one area of your life - how does the seder in that area of your life testify to your

level of Ratzon, your actual desire to prioritize that area?

BABYLONIAN TALMUD KIDDUSHIN 17A AND A YIDDISH PROVERB

As we work on Seder it is important to remember not to do too much. A common rabbinic saying goes,

One who grabs a lot cannot hold on to it while one who grabs a little holds on to it.

– Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 17a

With one tuchos you try to sit in ten chairs. – Yiddish proverb

Question for Consideration:

In what ways do you grab or do too much?

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FOR FURTHER STUDY

SEDER – ORDER

SOURCE 1: THE USES OF SEDER, RABBI ELIYAHU DESSLER (D. 1953, ISRAEL)

Rabbi Dessler writes that Seder helps us in the following ways:

1. Knowing that things are well arranged creates a feeling of inner satisfaction and confidence that

everything is under control.

2. Order helps you find things when you need them and saves you the time you would lose looking

for them.

3. Many things will function only if they are arranged correctly, like a machine that requires every

one of its parts to be in good working order, often in a specific sequence, to run properly.”

Questions for Consideration:

Where in your life do you have this type of inner satisfaction and sense that things are

functioning well as a result of Seder?

How could having more Seder save you time?

Where is God in your Seder or lack of Seder?

SOURCE 2: CHESHBON HANEFESH, RABBI MENDEL OF SATANOV

All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and at a set time.

Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you.

This is the trait of Seder/order:

allocating a set time for each and every thought and analysis,

freeing time and space for each and every affair in the world of action,

and demarcating the bounds of each with set boundaries so that one not intrude upon the

other.

Because this trait is often beset by many “maladies” which must be treated through conditioning, we

have seen fit to include it within the 13 traits which need reinforcement.

We find people who are knowledgeable in Torah, who are wise and possess fine character traits, yet lack

seder/order in their household affairs, in their dealings with others, in their studies or in their prayers.

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There are some whose household utensils…are piled atop each other or scattered about – clothing, pots,

bedding, tubs and books all in one heap –

so that some cannot be found when they are needed,

or precious time is wasted searching for them,

or their very proximity to each other is damaging.

There are people who are engrossed in Torah analysis or in making their business accountings while

reciting the daily prayers.

There are those who walk with their eyes open in the marketplace but see and hear nothing –

sometimes causing damage to themselves or their property,

and at least seeming foolish to others.

One should be extraordinarily careful not to allow herself to become confused and must condition

himself to focus all of his attention on what he is doing at that moment…

Questions for Consideration:

What “malady” most impacts your Seder/order? This can be another middah or something

external.

Which one of the consequences of not having Seder is most relevant to your life?

How would having the presence of mind and Seder that Rabbi Mendel describes impact your

life? Your spiritual leadership?

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SEDER PRACTICES

1. TORAH LEARNING: Use any of the sources not used during the va’ad. For additional background

reading you may refer to Everyday Holiness, Dr. Alan Morinis “Seder”

2. FOCUS PHRASE:

Repeat a phrase related to Seder that is meaningful for you for two or three minutes at the beginning of

your day. You can find your own phrase from our reading or other sources. Some people have a practice

of writing these phrases on an index card and placing it where you will see it in the morning.

All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and at a

set time. Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you. Rabbi

Menachem Mendel Leffin

First a person should put his house together, then his town, then the world. Rabbi Yisrael

Salanter

תפשת מרובה לא תפשת תפשת מועט תפשת

Tafasta meruba lo tefasta, tefasta moo’at tefasta

One who grabs a lot cannot hold it; one who grabs a little holds on to it.”

3. KABBALOT: small self-determined challenges

Make a point of noticing how much order you actually do have in your day. For example, if you pray on

daily basis, you can celebrate this as a type of order. It can be useful to consciously name all the ways

you actually have seder. You can do this at any point in the day. Choose one thing that is out of order in

your life and apply order to it. Notice what thoughts/feelings arise regarding your ratzon about this

item.

4. CHESHBON HANEFESH (JOURNALING OR HITBODEDUT):

Here are prompts you may want to use:

What Seder did you notice that you do have and what Ratzon does it testify about?

In Everyday Holy Day, Alan Morinis describes Seder as “an inner trait that rests on other traits….

If order is an issue in a person’s life, that person should peer deeply within to discover the root

trait that is at the real heart of the matter” (p. 218). For your Cheshbon Hanefesh, consider

what other traits might be at the root of any lack of seder you experienced today.

5. SICHAT CHAVERIM CHEVRUTA:

Have at least one 30 minute conversation about your practice. This can include insights or questions

from the reading. Split the time so each person gets 15 minutes of attention from the other person.

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A MINDFULNESS PERSPECTIVE ON SEDER

RABBI SHEILA PELTZ WEINBERG

Take a seat that is both relaxed and alert. Pause. After a few breaths bring your awareness to notice balance in your body. Notice if your weight feels heavier on the right side or the left side. Notice if you are lilting to one side or the other. Pause Just be aware. There is no need to judge or fix. Now, notice, if you are more lifted up or more releasing downward. Pause Again, just be aware. Now, notice if you are leaning forward or backward. Pause Finally notice where you experience sensation -- on the outside of your body? On the inside of your body? Pause Realize that you are attending to the Seder, the order, present at this moment in your body. Take a moment and set an intention to pay very close attention to the Seder of your breathing. Recognize that you are doing this to cultivate the quality of attention so that you can live with greater alignment with all your values and aspiration. Take a few deep conscious breaths. See where you feel your breath arising in the body -in the throat, upper lip, nostrils, chest or belly or in the entire body? Rest your attention in the area where the breath is easiest to feel. Wait until the in breath arises. Feel it. Notice how it changes into the out breath. Follow the out breath and see where it disappears until the next in breath arises. Pay particular attention to the beginning of the in breath. Then follow with your attention the entire cycle, the order, of each breath. Just follow one breath at a time. If you notice distractions in the mind, acknowledge them without judgment. If you can, label thought as thinking. Period. Gently return your attention to the beginning of the next cycle, the Seder, of this breath of life.